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!
It is easy to get into the habit if bottom-line thinking when considering
lineup decisions, waiver wire picks, and potential trades. I have
often recommended waiting three to four weeks before making any
significant transactions, but as fantasy leagues have grown more
competitive I have learned that sometimes you have to act fast and
make bold moves to enhance your team. If you took my preseason advice
and picked only one kicker, tight end, and defense and went running
back and receiver-heavy on draft day, you stocked your squad with
enough value to make deals for desirable players.
I followed my own advice and had enough quality backs that I
could afford the luxury of giving up a little bit more for players
I desire. Within the past week I made significant transactions
that I believe will help my teams:
- Trading DeAngelo Williams for Eddie
Royal prior to week two: If you think of Williams as
the likely starter for the season and Royal as a talented rookie
who came off his best game as a stopgap option until Brandon
Marshall returned, then I overpaid. But when I have Frank Gore,
Chris Johnson, Jamal Lewis, and Andre Hall, I can afford to
give up a little more for needed receiver in an offense I believe
will live and die by the pass. As it turned out, Jonathan Stewart
looked excellent against a strong run defense in week two and
likely gained an early advantage in the carries derby with Williams.
Every strong pass offense in the NFL has at least two, if not
three, fantasy worthy receivers. If Royal becomes at worst,
a quality third option for Cutler on the Broncos QB’s
journey towards a 4,000-yard season, I’ll have a player
I will start more often than a time-sharing RB.
- Trading Chris Perry and Reggie Williams
for Chris Cooley and (NYG) Steve Smith: Once again, it
appears I overpaid, but it’s difficult to disagree with
my logic when you consider my backs are Adrian Peterson, Michael
Turner, Jonathan Stewart, Ricky Williams, LaMont Jordan, and
Pierre Thomas and I only start two of them. Reggie Williams
is clearly more valuable on paper than Steve Smith, but I didn’t
plan on starting Williams and there are comparable players on
the waiver wire. With a team ranked 3rd overall in points scored,
my tight ends are my greatest weakness with only Robert Royal
(waivers) and Dustin Keller (draft) to choose from. After this
deal, the only position I need to consider upgrading is quarterback
if (CAR) Steve Smith doesn’t help my fantasy QB Jake Delhomme.
- Acquiring the Tennessee Titans and
John Kasay via the waiver wire on multiple teams: When
you draft only one kicker, one tight end, and one defense while
stocking up on receivers and runners, chances are you acquired
enough talent not to be desperate for a free agent at the position.
It also means that you are likely to be one of the bottom half
of teams on your leagues waiver order and not likely to get
the premium free agent talent at quarterback, runner, or receiver.
So pursuing defense and special teams players in the first round
of the waiver order is your best option and plays to the strengths
and weaknesses of your squad. Plus, if you really want a sought
after free agent, you can always make a trade for him (as I
did for Eddie Royal).
If your strategy has left you searching for skill position players
then maybe it’s best to look beyond the bottom-line stat
of fantasy points. In leagues where owners are conservative in
nature, sometimes our only option is to take what is available,
but if you do have more choices, there are several lesser-regarded
stats that can help you gain a decent picture of which players
are the best to pursue.
Having a good quarterback doesn’t mean much if he’s
taking more hits than a piñata at a birthday party. Although
it would be optimal to view how many times a quarterback has been
hit, the next best stat is sacks taken. But it is not just the
punishment; it’s also how a sack can kill a drive and cut
a quarterback’s number of opportunities in a ballgame.
J.T. O’Sullivan was excellent last week, but taking twelve
sacks in two games is a worrisome stat. The Niners quarterback is
reasonably mobile in the pocket, but Martz’s deep-drop system
leaves him even more exposed. This also justifies Vernon Davis skeptics,
because San Francisco clearly needs him to stay at the line of scrimmage
and pass protect more often than desired for fantasy owners. Davis
may have some big games, but they will be couched between some very
There’s little need to discuss Marc Bulger, because he
was the precursor to this problem O’Sullivan faces for the
first time as a starter.
David Garrard may be mobile, but his offensive line is a shambles.
At the same time, he faced two very good pass rushing defenses
in Tennessee and Buffalo. The Colts and a healthy Dwight Freeney
aren’t bad, either. I expect Garrard to be a QB you can
acquire at a low price and have some hope that his numbers will
improve with the return of Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams, and
the improvement of Matt Jones. But I’m not buying that logic.
None of these receivers have shown the kind of route running savvy
during their careers that help Garrard get rid of the ball quickly.
Expect more coverage pressure and sacks in Garrard’s future.
Jon Kitna’s problem isn’t his receivers. It’s
a predictable offense with an ineffective running game on first
and second down, which leads to more third and long situations
than what is desirable. Kitna also has a bit of that Drew Bledsoe
syndrome of standing in the pocket until the last moment. If the
offensive line improves it’s run blocking, the Lions are
like the poor man’s version of the Arizona Cardinals when
they have the ball.
Matt Hasselbeck’s issue is quite the opposite. He’s
good in the pocket, but when your best receiver might be street
free agent Koren Robinson on his second tour of duty in Seattle,
the issue is coverage sacks due to a lack of rapport with his
receivers and his corps inexperience with the offense. If Robinson
makes the most of his opportunity and Bobby Engram is healthy
enough to produce upon his return, Hasselbeck could have vastly
improved production down the stretch. The key will be Robinson
who is a big play threat when at his best. If he produces, the
offense will open up and allow Engram to be the complement he
is along with rookie tight end John Carlson and Julius Jones out
of the backfield. If you see some highly worthy plays from Robinson,
Hasselbeck could be a great bargain. It is not likely, but you
still need to know the telltale sign.
Chad Pennington and Brett Favre all have the same problem as
Hasselbeck, but in reverse. They are the new guys under center
and will be more hesitant due to their inexperience with their
respective systems. I expect both to get much better as the season
progresses, especially Favre. Pennington needs his receivers and
running game to play better so his improvement won’t show
up as clearly on the box score.
Matt Ryan and Matt Cassel are first-year starters. Cassel’s
low sack rate has something to do with a few years of preparation
on a great team. The fact Matt Ryan only has five sacks is a credit
to his skill. Both will have their ups and downs, but will be
worth at least a bye week play.
Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t had many attempts so his sack
rate his higher than most on this list. If his shoulder problem
lingers for more than a few weeks, this could become worrisome
for fantasy owners.
Campbell and Palmer have faced at least two good pass rushing
units there is some cause for hope with the up and coming Campbell.
Palmer has been in most fantasy owner’s doghouse, but this
unit should make enough adjustments to come around. These are
two buy low candidates. People are literally dropping Palmer in
some leagues. While I never expect the Bengals defense to come
around, I do believe we’ll see some life from the offense
Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese should be treated like one player
for two games when examining this stat. The total is still pretty
good. Still, these two quarterbacks are good-but-not-great options,
because they are the type of players that need a great receiver
to elevate their game. Phillip Rivers on the other hand has enough
weapons around him to elevate his game when called upon to do
so. I think he could become a top eight quarterback out of necessity
this season and could be had a reasonable price. Cutler, Rodgers,
and Romo look like the class the NFL at their position. You’ll
have to pay a premium to get them.
I believe this stat reflects the skill level, offensive scheme,
and play-calling situation where these players are used. I was looking
for players with a first down percentage of 25% on a minimum of
20 carries after two games.
Brian Westbrook is no surprise; he’s the Eagles most versatile
weapon. But Jonathan Stewart? He has faced two of the more difficult
run defenses in the NFL and got first downs a third of the time.
Stewart, Michael Turner, and Marion Barber are equally versatile
and capable of pummeling a defense into submission. If you have
Stewart on your squad, it might not be a bad risk to count on
him as your second starter and trade away another back to upgrade
your team. The fact that Stewart will see goal line carries and
at least split time with DeAngelo Williams should make him a decent
fantasy start more weeks than not.
Jerious Norwood is a surprise, but his carry rate might be inflated
due to Michael Turner’s ankle injury in the second game
that forced him to the sideline. Still, Norwood is a threat for
a big play whenever he touches the football. Speaking of which,
Chris Johnson has those skills and is earning the opportunities.
Although the initial box scores leave the impression Johnson’s
value is his 1-2 big plays per game, the fact he’s getting
first downs on nearly 30% of his carries belies that notion. He
may also be a player worthy of taking the plunge and trusting
as your #2 RB while trading away depth to shore up other parts
of your roster.
Here’s one reason why I felt comfortable with trading away
Chris Perry despite a moderately impressive effort against the
Titans run defense. Actually, the first three players are good
candidates to sell high at this time. I plan to hang onto Gore,
but it is clear his offensive line hasn’t improved very
much from last year. What balances things out are O’Sullivan
and Bruce complementing the offense and keeping defenses more
focused on the passing game. McFadden had a highly productive
game versus the lowly Chiefs. He did nothing to show that he’s
more than a straight-ahead runner with great acceleration, but
it was enough in last week’s effort. The big issue is what
I worried about with him this summer: when the regular season
hit, would he forget what he learned in camp about ball protection?
So far, the answer is yes. He had a big game, but ask me how I
feel about my assessment of McFadden after he plays 12-16 games
and gets at least 15 carries in each. I still believe this is
a good time to sell him high. Jonathan Stewart is for real. McFadden
will give you good weeks, but I don’t believe it will be
consistently good production. Ricky Williams might be a buy low
candidate if you believe he’s shaking off more rust and
still getting into football shape. I don’t believe those
are the reasons for his fumbles. It looks like he’s in a
more permanent timeshare with Ronnie Brown for the rest of the
Targets and Target Efficiency
I believe these two stats will tell you a lot about your receiver’s
present role in his offense. I’m not sure how good of a
predictor it will be for the next 14 games, but that’s for
you to judge. My take is that a receiver with a high target total
is either on a pass-happy offense or is the only healthy, productive
option for his quarterback. If multiple receivers on the same
team have a high target total you know the offense is spreading
the ball around. If the target efficiency is high for these multiple
receivers from the same offense, then you also know the offense
is hitting on all cylinders.
A high efficiency number with a low target total can also indicate
an offense is operating well. Terrell Owens is ranked 37th among
receivers in targets, but 18th overall in efficiency. Although
he is the only wide receiver on the Dallas offense ranked in the
top 50, Jason Witten’s performance, coupled with Marion
Barber’s ability to get first downs are reasons (along with
Tony Romo) Dallas seems to be scoring at will. How efficient is
Owens? Check out the 22 yards per reception average that he’s
converting on 2/3 of his targets and you see it is only taking
a pass per quarter for him to be a top producer.
Roy Williams is angry about his lack of involvement in the offense,
but I don’t think he’s as jealous of Calvin Johnson
as he is Shaun McDonald. Williams has to understand that Johnson
is only going to help him garner better matchups, but those balls
Williams expects to see as a result are often going to McDonald,
who is seeing 16 targets to Wiliams’ 12. Both are converting
at the same rate (50%) but Williams averages more than twice the
amount of yards per catch than McDonald. There are two plausible
explanations here: 1) The down and distance situation of the plays
going to McDonald where his short area quickness is a greater
asset than Williams and 2) What the defense is doing on the play.
Kitna has been sacked a ton and McDonald might be the best check
down option under pressure. Maybe Williams’ frustration
should be directed towards his offensive line and run game that
force the Lions into situational football.
Brandon Marshall took all of one game to not only make up for
the game he missed in targets and receptions, but his efficiency
rating is off to an incredible start. Considering Eddie Royal
isn’t too shabby with 18 targets and an impressive 78% efficiency,
I have a rough time believing Denver won’t be one of the
most pass-happy offenses in 2008. Cutler, Marshall, Royal, and
Scheffler will all be strong fantasy starts this year. A further
vote of confidence for Royal, Stokely, and Jackson (as depth)
is Tuesday’s trade of Keary Colbert to the Seahawks.
Marvin Harrison is one of the bigger question marks among fantasy
receivers since training camp. Will he or won’t he return
to form? Harrison is ranked 20th among all receivers for targets
and converting at a decent rate of 60%, but Anthony Gonzalez is
out producing the venerable Harrison with only five fewer targets
as a ‘bench player’. Not a great sign for Harrison.
Harrison’s big plays traditionally come from the play action
off the Colts’ patented stretch play, which the Colts have
been unable to execute with Manning’s ongoing recovery from
knee surgery. I’d keep Harrison as a reserve player who
should get better down the stretch, but if you can’t afford
to wait that long, I’d search for other options.
Vincent Jackson is an option I would consider acquiring. He is
likely a top-level reserve for a team that drafted him as depth
and could unload him in a package deal in return for a quality
player. Notice that Chris Chambers isn’t even on the list
because as impressive as his 25 yards per reception average is,
he’s not getting enough the targets to warrant consideration
as a true, primary weapon. With Antonio Gates and Ladainian Tomlinson
hurting, Jackson has a chance to increase his value and his 75%
efficiency rate indicates that is what he’s doing.
Bryant Johnson appears to be J.T. O’Sullivan’s favorite
target and much like Vincent Jackson, fantasy owners should be
able to acquire him with little resistance in a package deal.
Potential Pass-Happy Offensive Units
We already mentioned receivers from Denver, Detroit, and Indianapolis.
Arizona and Pittsburgh deserve mentioning and their receiving
corps is talented and stable. Philadelphia is the classic, pass-happy
offense but of the two receivers on this list, DeSean Jackson
is the one with staying power. He is explosive with his 18 yards
per catch with a 67% target efficiency rate. Reggie Brown’s
return will only help complement Jackson’s involvement in
the offense. Philly may have lost the Monday Night division battle,
but they look like they still have a chance to win the war. Green
Bay is throwing the ball around with as much confidence as ever,
thanks to Aaron Rodgers and the hamstrung Ryan Grant.
A surprise unit could turn out to be the Washington Redskins.
Both Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are prominently on this
list and after all the leery comments about Jim Zorn, I think
people will look back and feel differently about the team’s
new head coach. For me it was something Trent Dilfer said about
Jason Campbell during an analysis of the QB’s game-winning
bomb to Santana Moss. The former Seahawk’s quarterback turned
analyst referred to the way Campbell, read the safeties, turned
his shoulder away from the pressure, stepped up in the pocket,
and delivered the ball downfield as something exactly as Jim Zorn
coaches. This reminded me of what reporters showed all off season
with Zorn – the coach tutoring his quarterbacks. He’s
the same coach who helped refine Matt Hasselbeck’s game.
But the credit also goes to Campbell for being a quick study.
This may be one of the positives of him having so many new systems
throughout his college and NFL career. It would have been easy
for Campbell to perform poorly in college with all these changes,
but instead he thrived. I think this must have helped him in the
NFL. He’s adaptable. Not something you see that often from
a young player. I actually just picked him back up on one of my
rosters as my second QB.
New England remains efficient in the passing game, but I believe
they are on a downward trend in terms of attempts per game. I
expect to see heavier doses of the ground game of Maroney, Jordan,
Faulk and Morris, YPC. In contrast, I do expect an upward trend
for San Francisco, now that Reverend Ike took an extra week to
get his sermons ready.
The player who leaps from this table is Seahawk’s rookie
TE John Carlson. He’s ranked fifth in targets and sixth
with his efficiency rate. Get him while you can. Robert Royal
may have been up one week and down the next, but it had to do
with lack of targets in week two. He’s converting a very
high 75%. I wouldn’t quit on him too early in an offense
that seems to be coming together under Trent Edwards. You may
want to include Dante Rosario here, too. The middle of the field
should be wide open for him now that Steve Smith returns to the
The players you might be able to pry from owners if you act quickly
include Chris Cooley and Jeremy Shockey. Cooley is 19th in targets,
but is highly efficient with his opportunities. Expect more targets
his way as the season progresses. The same can be said for Shockey
who will be counted on more frequently.
Antonio Gates is really gutting out a tough injury and the stats
who he’s still putting up decent numbers for a tight end,
but he’s on track to be a mid-level starter as opposed to
his normal elite status for the past few years. Be wary if you’re
thinking about him as a buy low candidate in a trade negotiation.
Bo Scaife is an interesting candidate as a buy low player. The
perception that Alge Crumpler would be the starter is still there,
but the numbers suggest Scaife might turn into the best option.
Last week wasn’t a good follow up to week one, but if he
posts decent stats in week two, I’d take a chance on him.