WR Brandon Lloyd,
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!
On a continued quest to dispel the
link between certain scouting prototypes and fantasy production,
The Gut Check is profiling Brandon Lloyd. He’ll also examine
why the savvy fantasy owner shouldn’t limit his choices
only to game-breakers with the freakish, physical prototypes at
the receiver position. There are many proven, feature receivers
that don’t look like the tight ends from our fathers and
grandfathers’ NFL. Brandon Lloyd is one of them.
Lloyd was regarded as a top prospect heading into his senior
year, but his stock dropped after running a sub-par time in the
40 at the combine. Lloyd doesn’t fit the recent, optimum
physical prototypes that scouts look for in NFL receivers. Despite
Lloyd’s collegiate penchant for big plays, scouts continue
to write him off as strictly a complement in an NFL offense and
not a true #1 receiver.
NFL scouts and personnel men seem to forget about the game film
when staring at a stopwatch. This was the case with Brandon Lloyd.
Lloyd claimed his 40-time was slow because he was recovering from
the flu. Illness and injuries are common excuses for players that
don’t perform up to par for the combine. These “the
dog ate my homework,” excuses are made so often to scouts,
they’re rarely worth considering. Nonetheless, Lloyd was
an All-Big Ten and 2nd team All-American matched up against top
athletes that are now playing in NFL defensive backfields. You
don’t get deep on Big-Ten defensive backs with smoke and
mirrors. Yet based on his fourth round selection, scouts must
have chucked the game film after seeing the 40-time.
If that weren’t the case, Dennis Erickson wouldn’t
have commented to the media at the beginning of the 2003 training
camp that Brandon Lloyd was significantly faster than they thought.
Looking back on it, maybe there was some credence to the 4.49,
40 time posted on the University of Illinois website as opposed
to the 4.62 Lloyd ran at the combine. Sports Information Directors
at big-time universities are more akin to marketing directors
than purveyors of truth, but that’s why piecing together
information from various sources sometimes creates the most accurate
The inconsistency among the reported times is another reason
why Lloyd fell to the fourth round. Personnel types came to the
conclusion that Lloyd wasn’t the kind of prospect they could
hang their draft on. But heading into his senior year, Lloyd was
scouted in many circles as a first round pick. This is an example
of a developing theory The Gut Check may someday postulate on
pro football scouting: sometimes it’s better to listen to
what the scout says about a player the year before he comes out
for the draft
Due to the NFL placing such a premium on height, weight, and
speed, recent player assessments have resulted in a significant
number of budding NFL stars to slip past the first three rounds.
The NFL is taking notice. The trend is beginning to swing back
to production against quality opponents—not just scales,
stopwatches, and tape measures. Lloyd was noticed for his production
and athleticism regardless of the quarterback throwing him the
ball. This is a sure sign that Lloyd ran good routes for a college
receiver and understood the offense. Otherwise, Lloyd’s
production would have taken a nosedive after Kurt Kittner left
for the NFL. But one bad day running for the stopwatch changed
others views of his potential. This is what made Lloyd a fourth
round steal—as it did with the many other steals of the
4th round of the 2003 draft—the question marks linked to
each player were overblown.
The Gut Check did a little informal scouting of his own in anticipation
of what the stopwatch wouldn’t reveal in 2003. He watched
a college all-star QB-WR challenge on FOX. I can guess what you
are thinking, The Gut Check is laughing as he’s typing it,
but sometimes these shows can be pretty informative—at least
as much as looking at a stopwatch, scale, or tape measure. The
show definitely illustrated that the QB/system didn’t make
the WR in terms of Brandon Lloyd.
Assuming you had something better to do, I’ll give you
a quick synopsis: FOX gathered some high-profile college quarterbacks
and paired each of them with an equally well-known receiver to
compete in “skill-based” challenges. Some of the challenges
required the team to work together; others were based on the individual
position. Regardless of what you may be thinking thus far, this
show wasn’t the highlight of my winter, so forgive me if
the mundane details aren’t exact. Nonetheless, what The
Gut Check noticed about Lloyd vividly stood out and helped me
make a steal of a pick in two dynasty league rookie drafts.
The quarterbacks were Rex Grossman, Brad Banks, Jason Gesser,
and Ken Dorsey. The receivers were Charles Rogers, Taylor Jacobs,
Lloyd, and I believe Bryant Johnson (here’s where I was
probably taking trips to the refrigerator). One of the challenges
was a timed event where the receiver runs through a pre-set course
of common pass routes. The quarterback had to throw the ball to
the receiver at select points of the course where the receiver
should be coming out of his break. Here is what I remembered:
Charles Rogers was rough on his patterns but demonstrated amazing
hands and athleticism. This was nothing we already didn’t
know from his Michigan career, where Rogers’ spectacular
plays overshadowed the lack of polish in other areas. It was apparent
that Rogers could adjust to a poorly thrown ball, but wasn’t
the smoothest receiver in terms of footwork. Taylor Jacobs was
a little inconsistent with his hands and really got tied up on
the patterns. It was as if he were trying to run too fast—the
Gut Check was thinking if Jacobs was having this much difficulty
when Rex Grossman was the QB throwing him the ball, then Jacobs
might have to face a similar adjustment period to the NFL as his
“Ole Ball Coach.”
As for Bryant Johnson, I was grabbing some leftovers at that
point. Nothing against Johnson, but Penn State receivers seem
to turn in to solid players, but rarely anything for a fantasy
owner to take notice: Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius, and the best
of the lot, O.J. McDuffie. It wasn’t surprising the Cardinals
drafted a Fitzgerald to complement Bolden next year, thereby relegating
Johnson to what we can term “the Penn State slot receiver
role.” Maybe Denny Green was watching game film of Johnson
and got hungry too….
As I mentioned before, Lloyd was the most impressive. He was
very smooth in his patterns while running them at high speed.
He adjusted his body to make a good target for Ken Dorsey (who
by the way looked better than advertised, and the 49ers may have
stolen themselves a QB they can develop into at least a solid
backup). On one of his routes, Lloyd even made an acrobatic grab
on Dorsey’s only bad throw. By far he was the most polished
receiver. Same thing when the receivers ran an obstacle course:
Lloyd won the event. You don’t win a timed obstacle course
unless you have a decent amount of speed. What I learned was Brandon
Lloyd displayed the same body control, leaping ability, and quickness
that had a scout say during the college season that next to Rogers,
Lloyd was the most athletic WR coming out of college. Yet Rogers,
Jacobs, and Johnson were all much higher picks than Lloyd.
Everything the Gut Check has been describing, fans saw glimpses
of this season. Under the lights, Lloyd displayed his playmaking
flair with long grabs in tight coverage and feats of body control
echoing those of Cris Carter against the Rams, and most memorably,
that 3rd down, sideline contortionist act versus the Seahawks.
If Lloyd were in a situation similar to fellow draft classmates
Anquan Bolden and Charles Rogers, the Gut Check firmly believes
he would be have made a case for rookie of the year.
There are also several differences among the 49ers, Lions, and
Cardinals that tell why Lloyd didn’t get on the field earlier
in the year. Dennis Erickson has a reputation for keeping rookies
on the sideline. The 49ers have a proven superstar in Terrell
Owens and a complementary receiver with enough deep speed to make
big plays in Tai Streets. Heading into the year, the 49ers viewed
themselves as a contender and didn’t want to dramatically
change the offensive chemistry. As the season took a down turn,
and Owens made it clear he wanted out of town, Lloyd gradually
got more time.
What makes Lloyd a threat besides his underrated physical ability
is what The Gut Check calls “High Football I.Q.” Certain
players have it and it shows by whatever they do on the field.
Hines Ward, Ed Reed, and Troy Brown are all players that not only
make the big catch or tackle, but also excel on special teams.
For that matter, they repeatedly turn up as players that make
a key play in any situation on a football field. While result
may not always change the course of the game on the scoreboard,
it alters the momentum of their opponent and gives their team
In the small moments of playing time Lloyd received this season,
he’s shown a high football IQ. There’s the blocked
punt early in the season. Then the highlight third down catch
to the goal line on the first play he lined up at receiver in
the regular season. And of course, the spectacular diving grab
in the end zone against the Rams. When a rookie makes plays as
just described with limited opportunities, his teammates come
to expect something exciting to happen when he gets on the field.
The offensive staff said Lloyd will at least be a fine #2 WR
in the NFL and has a bright future. The Gut Check believes this
is a conservative estimate. As the Gut Check pointed out earlier,
if Lloyd were 6’2”, 220 lbs., he would likely have
been a first day pick and expected to develop into a feature receiver.
Despite the cautious optimism from NFL insiders and 49ers staff,
there are a great number of feature receivers in the NFL with
similar dimensions to Lloyd:
There are really two types of receivers on this list. The first
is the grouping of Harrison, Coles, and Moss. All three have top-drawer
speed. It is a big part of their game because few corners can play
tight coverage on an island against them and the defense has to
make additional compensations in game planning.
Although they share similar physical attributes, each are in
different stages of their careers: Harrison and Bruce have developed
their games to the point that they will still be weapons as their
speed diminishes. Coles was on pace to develop a complete game
as Harrison and Bruce. If he remained with the Jets and QB Chad
Pennington, his chances would have been better. At the same time,
Patrick Ramsey has a chance to be a fine QB within the right system.
Moss is just beginning to show the playmaking ability expected
from him as a receiver, now that he’s healthy.
Lloyd’s talents, if they continue to develop, will place
him more in the group of players that base their game on routes,
athleticism after the catch, and getting deep with sneaky speed:
Bruce, Holt, Ward, and Mason. In fact Holt, Ward, and Mason were
all projected as complementary receivers earlier in their careers.
Before Ward busted out a couple years ago, he was initially seen
as a potential slot receiver—that is if he made the team!
Based on Ward’s recent performance its hard to believe that
Troy Edwards was the highly-touted draft pick and Bobby Shaw was
seen as the player with promise to be the #2 WR in Pittsburgh.
A lot unseen factors can change a team’s viewpoint of a
player. Shaw and Edwards with all their athletic promise couldn’t
hang onto the ball or run disciplined routes. Ward on the other
hand, didn’t have the same athleticism but he had the smarts,
toughness, and excellent concentration and physicality at full
speed. Many players can’t play to their timed speed.
The 49ers say Lloyd is may not turn out to be primary receiver
material because they watch the replays of his deep receptions
and do not see the separation they feel should be there on these
routes. They say this lack of speed is the reason he’s had
to make such acrobatic grabs. The Gut Check disagrees and though
he’s as far away from an NFL coach as it gets, he bases
his argument on the 49ers worst critic: Terrell Owens.
T.O. knows a thing or two about getting separation from a defensive
back and he has a fair understanding of the team. So when Owens
was asked to give a comparison and contract of his current and
previous quarterbacks, his answer explained that separation is
often dictated as much by the thrower as the receiver:
"I got a taste when the ball kind of got in on me a little
faster than I'm used to. I think it's a situation where we'll
have to work together. Everybody knows Donovan has a hose of
an arm. I know he can get it out there.
"It's something I haven't really been accustomed to, as
far as being open, beating guys and getting that chemistry where
if I'm approaching a (cornerback), him knowing that I'm going
to beat the guy and really just him throwing it out there and
letting me go get it. Versus the last couple years with Garcia,
he pretty much waited until he saw me behind the guy and then
threw it. The chemistry wasn't there because he didn't have
a strong enough arm."
None of the 49ers quarterbacks have a great arm. And based on
what Owens said above, Garcia was the reason receivers never got
a chance to retain their initial separation from a defensive back.
Additionally, Garcia is a scrambler in an offense that was transitioning
to a deep passing game. This means Garcia either lacked the time
or timing (anticipation) to make the type of throw that allows
a receiver to retain the separation the 49ers claim Lloyd wasn’t
getting. This is why Gut Check has a problem with this explanation.
He watched spot-shadow replays of Lloyd one-on-one with a corner
where Lloyd beat the man so bad with a move that it put the receiver
a solid 3-4 steps in front. Two things happened on the play: the
safety was playing in the deep zone on Lloyd’s side and
Garcia put so much air under the ball, Lloyd had to compensate
for the throw.
Additionally, the other deep catches Lloyd had were routes along
the sideline near the end zone. These routes are designed to diminish
the weakness of a quarterback’s arm and favor the athleticism
of the receiver because the sideline serves as a boundary to make
interceptions less likely. Even so, Lloyd had a similar play where
he had to make an acrobatic compensation to catch the ball and
avoid the safety coming from over the top. This is why the Gut
Check feels Lloyd has enough speed to get deep with the right
With Owens in Philly, the Gut Check foresees a #1-#1A WR dynamic
in the 49ers future with Woods/Lloyd—similar to Price/Moulds,
Holt/Bruce, and Ward/Burress—although not as prolific due
to inexperience at both the receiver and quarterback positions:
1. Cedrick Wilson—see what I said about Bobby Shaw. Just
doesn’t have the football IQ to make the leap to starter
status—see Rams game last year.
2. Rashaun Woods—the Gut Check’s pick as the best
WR in the 2004 draft not named Larry Fitzgerald.
3. Arnaz Battle—He may outperform Wilson down the line, but his raw
athleticism needs refinement.
4. Derrick Hamilton—has the ability to develop into a starter,
but anyone thinking he can compete with the polished skills of
Woods is fooling them selves at this point.
As for the Gut Check on Lloyd, this columnist believes Lloyd
is prime keeper league material. By 2005 he will develop into
a consistent 1100-1300 yard receiver with the athleticism, football
smarts, and hands to score 6-8 TDs on a regular basis. As for
this year, the Gut Check projects at least 850 yards and a 5 TD
season with weeks where Lloyd comes up big and others where he
disappears—definitely a decent fill in for your #3 WR spot
on your re-draft league’s fantasy roster but valued more
like a #4 or #5 WR on draft day.