The Pre-Season All-Gut Check Offense
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!
Draft day for many of you is approaching fast. Since The Gut Check
doesn't have the time to write one article for each player
he likes as a sleeper, he's compiling a roster for your consideration.
Keep in mind the All-Preseason Gut Check Offensive Roster is filled
with sleepersunderrated or under-appreciated playersto
target in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft. In fact some of
these players may be waiver wire specials to watch as the season
progresses. This 14-man roster is based on a lineup of 1 QB, 2 RB,
3 WR, 1 TE with backups for each starting spot. The Gut Check didn't
include kickers. You can generally find a good one on the waiver
wire within the first month of the season if the one you drafted
isn't one of the top three.
|All-Gut Check Offense
The designation of starter and back up is not a recommendation of
who to start. This is more of an ADP likelihood of where these players
will get drafted. For instance, as amazing as it is to The Gut Check,
Rich Gannon is going after Leftwich. As much as Yours Truly likes
Leftwich's prospects, it's ridiculous that Gannonan
MVP just two years agois getting drafted so late. Nonetheless,
that's why Gannon is listed as the backup.
Byron Leftwich (see
TGC Volume 6)Leftwich has become a favorite media sleeper
this summer. Unless the injury bug bites, don't be concerned
about the Jaguars' slow offensive start in camp. The preseason
is for working out the kinks and Leftwich has shown in practice
that he's ready to take the next step.
Rich GannonTalk about under-appreciated!
The former NFL MVP and fantasy stud dropped off the face of the
fantasy football world after his shoulder injury and the Raiders
2003 implosion. Looking at his stats from 1999-2002 it's hard
to fathom why Gannon is discounted:
|Gannon's Glory Years
Throw in another 250 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground, and someone
needs to explain to Yours Truly how on earth The Gut Check was able
to draft Gannon in round 10 in his re-draft league last week! Gannon's
ADP is so low that McCown, Brunnell, Harrington, and Carr are going
before him. This is ridiculouswhich is exactly what Gannon
said when he recently picked up a fantasy football magazine and
it didn't have him in the top-25!
The presence of Kerry Collins has kept Gannon's value down,
but here's where common sense has slipped through the cracks
this summer. Kerry Collins is a decent starter in this league,
but he's no Rich Gannon. Collins may have a stronger arm,
but he lacks Gannon's accuracy, maneuverability in the pocket,
and knowledge of the playbook. Collins has demonstrated excellent
leadership and has grown a lot as a player and person. Nonetheless,
Collins still has fundamental flaws in his game that prevent him
from elevating to the next level. Look at the Raider's acquisition
of Collins as a Neil O'Donnell/Steve Beuerlein/Vinny Testaverde
addition. This is an insurance policy they discovered that they
didn't have last year. Plus Collins can bridge the gap between
Gannon (once he retires) and a possible developmental QB in the
With a healthy Jerry Porter replacing Tim Brown, the Raiders
have a true deep threat that will allow Jerry Rice to remain effective
underneath. Throw in Doug Jolleyanother player not getting
much fantasy football loveand a young but promising corps
of receivers, and the Raiders' offense still has enough
firepower. Owners are clearly writing off Gannon and the Raiders.
The only thing they should have written off was Bill Callahan.
His decisions created a media soap opera in Oakland last year.
Pick Gannon and you'll get a healthy, experienced quarterback
with a huge chip on his shoulder this year.
Thomas JonesA lot of
people have a cynical view of Thomas Jones. This has to do with
the former Virginia star doing virtually nothing in his first
three years with Cardinals before a nice but brief stretch run
with the Buccaneers, which he parlayed into a lucrative deal with
Chicago. Is Chicago an overzealous team that was desperate for
a change from an under-appreciated Anthony Thomas? Or is Jones
the real deal? The Gut Check has been following Thomas Jones since
his senior year at Virginia and Jones' career thus far reminds
him of a current RB that is wrapping up his: Garrison Hearst.
|Hearst's Career Stats
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Hearst was a star at Georgia and the Cardinals originally drafted
him as their franchise back. Hearst got hurt and never really
got out of Buddy Ryan's doghouse. Even after a 1000-yard
season, he was labeled a bust and shipped off to Cincinnati. Nothing
looked promising for Hearst. Up to this point, Hearst had only
managed four yards per carry once in his career and that was a
37-carry season. His lone, 1000-yard season was one where the
one-time first rounder only managed 3.8 yards per carry. Not a
But things turned around when the 49ers acquired Hearst as a
free agent. Not only did he average over four yard per carry in
his first year, but he also exceeded his career touchdown total
in that season alone. The next year, Hearst gained over 2,200
yards from scrimmage and scored 9 touchdowns before a devastating
injury in the playoffs robbed him of two years of his prime.
The Gut Check sees Thomas Jones as a player that started his
career in a similar situation. When you consider Jones'
prospects, decide whether Jamal Lewis or Shaun Alexander would
have done much better on a team that lacked a Jonathan Ogden or
Walter Jones up front. The Gut Check doesn't think so. Jones'
was rated higher than both these backs coming out of the 2000
draft. An argument can be made the Lewis' value was lower
because he was recovering from injury, but that doesn't
take much away from Jones. One might argue that Hearst wasn't
that impressive in Cincinnati and Corey Dillon thrived for years
for horrible Bengal teams. The Gut Check counters with the fact
that at the time Hearst was the better performing Bengal in a
committee with Kijana Carter, but Carter was the player Cincinnati
wanted to win the job. If it weren't for Carter having yet
another season-ending injury the year, Corey Dillon would not
have had his record-breaking, rookie season.
What isn't mentioned very often is the rib injury Jones
played through during his first two seasonsa problem that
made it difficult for Jones to breath without feeling pain. This
is similar to the problem John Abraham of the Jets experienced
earlier in his career. Jones proclaimed himself healthy at the
start of the 2002 season and his early performances lend credence
to the theory that his chronic injury was holding him back.
After a pedestrian week one, Jones exploded for 173 yards on
24 carries against the Seahawks in week two. He followed this
up with a respectable 17 carries for 73 yards (4.3 avg.) against
the Chargers in week three before getting injured in week four.
Jones returned to the field in weeks six through ten, but the
Cardinals were manhandled in all but one game and Jones never
received more than 15 carries after a mediocre week six performance
coming back from injury.
Jones was never really healthy that year, but the pressure to
succeed as the Cardinals' number one pick after two non-descript
years had to play a significant part in his desire to continue
playing. It was Jones' last season in Arizona before getting
traded to the Buccaneers for WR Marquise Walkera player
that has yet to stick to an NFL roster.
The Gut Check believes this was the best thing to happen to Jones,
because Garrison Hearst was in a similar situation. Once Hearst
was shipped out of Arizona, he was able to grow as a player and
a person. The Gut Check can say this, because he knows a little
bit more about Hearst's behavior than most players. This
writer used to cover the University of Georgia football practices
back in the days when Hearst was a Bulldog. You didn't have
to be a reporter to realize that the star running back didn't
know how to handle his early fame. Hearst often conducted himself
with a level of immaturity and arrogance that was noticeable to
classmates, the general public, teammates, and the media while
in school. There were several times that Hearst's teammates
would express disdain for this attitude when he didn't show
up on time for interviews scheduled after practice. It's
true that life as a student-athlete is a grind, but Hearst's
teammates expected him to perform to the same standard and readily
expressed their disappointment in him when he didn't. The
Gut Check is sure that Hearst didn't act this way all the
time, but between these incidents and anecdotes from classmates
describing similar behavior, Hearst had a bad reputation among
people that weren't closest to him.
To Hearst's credit, he matured after reaching the NFL.
The Gut Check wouldn't be surprised if some of this had
to do with Hearst's experiences in Buddy Ryan's doghouse,
and the superhuman effort he had to make in order to rehabilitate
both his ankle and career in San Francisco. Whether Hearst just
matured for other reasons or it was a newfound appreciation for
his life as a professional football player, the running back is
generally regarded as an inspirational leader that is affable
with the public and highly respected in the locker room.
Thomas Jones has to see his opportunity in Chicago as his chance
to prove that he belongs in the class of Jamal Lewis and Shaun
Alexander. Just as Hearst saw his career come together in a San
Francisco offense that utilized his skills, The Gut Check believes
Jones' first year in Chicago will vault him into the top
fifteen of fantasy RBs.
Brian Westbrook (See
TGC Volume 1)Westbrook's value peaked before
training camp when it was speculated that Reid would be handing
the job over to him. The hype is starting to wane as the Eagles
coach has emphasized a split between Westbrook and Buckhalter.
Again, the Gut Check isn't buying it. He still believes
Westbrook is going to be the primary option with Buckhalter spelling
him. This is a player many fantasy owners are scared to draft,
but as Quentin Griffin's value rises, Westbrook's
is fallingthis is good. Westbrook is the same type of back,
arguably better. He's also in a better offense and rookie
lineman Shawn Andrews looks as good as advertised &.
Lee Suggs (See
TGC Volume 4)Target this guy as your third back, but
don't be afraid to get him as your #2 RB. He's better
than Green. Just watch Suggs on the fielddon't listen
to Butch Davis' media-b.s.the 2nd year Virginia Tech
star is going to be a leader on this team, and should help the
Browns organization turn around their misfortunes.
Quincy Wilson (See
TGC Volume 5) didn't get many opportunities in
a 31-0 game, but it's already been reported that T.J. Duckett
hasn't meshed well with the new blocking scheme and Warrick
Dunn is slated to get a lot opportunities as the starter. With
Dunn's injury history, Wilson may just have the openingat
least as a situational ball carrier and receiverthat Yours
Truly speculated earlier in the season.
Brandon Lloyd (TGC
Volume 2)As amazing to The Gut Check that last year's
flashes of downfield playmaking weren't enough, Lloyd is
going to prove that he's more than a secondary complement
Larry Fitzgerald (TGC
Volume 3)The ankle injury isn't serious. Fitzgerald
is now the primary receiver at least for the first half of the
season. Bolden was a highly underrated receiver that took the
league by surprise. Fitzgerald is better than Bolden coming out
of school, but teams will be more prepared. Therefore don't
expect the same numbers as Bolden, but he'll still be a
viable fantasy option for 3 or 4 WR lineups.
Gut Check wanted to devote an entire article to this guy alone,
but this will have to do. On a Saturday three years ago, Yours
Truly was taking in some SEC football to scout Donté Stallworth.
But it was Washington that stole the show versus LSU. The
Future, flashed the size and power of Terrell Owens, the
speed of David Boston, and both the route running and the I
want the ball more than you do,' skills of Michael Irvin.
Over-hyped? This is kid was profiled in ESPN as a player that
would tell the Tennessee corners in practice which route he was
about to run before the snap and still beat them. The only reason
we're hearing more about Dontè Stallworth is that
Washington suffered a neck injury that scared teams away from
making him a first round pick in 2002. Marvin Lewis stole him
in round four, although many fans don't realize how much
of a crime that really is.
Washington and Chad Johnson are going to make an obnoxious duo
on the field, but Washingtonlike his running mateis
a man who's actions are easy to misinterpret. A fiery competitor
on the field, Washington was known as a hard worker that kept
to him self off the field at Tennessee. This rubbed his teammates
the wrong way, but unless he lets his celebrity of being in the
NFL go to his head, Washington, Johnson and Warrick will be among
the best trio of receivers in the NFL. Washington showed flashes
of this ability during his rookie year the Bengals have made it
know that he's competing with Peter Warrick for his starting
spot. It is likely Warrick will keep his job. Nonetheless Washington
will see plenty of time on the outside, with Warrick moving to
the slot in three receiver sets. In fact, don't be surprised
if Washington out-produces Warrickespecially in the red
of Peter Warrick, Mitchell is a player that the Gut Check thinks
will have the type of stats in 2004 that Warrick attained in 2003
(819 yards and 7 tds). Both Mitchell and Warrick were highly touted
receivers coming out of school, but didn't produce numbers
commensurate with their draft status early in their careers. Both
are smaller players that needed more work on the basics than originally
thought. This disappointed fans, and both Warrick and Mitchell
were overlooked in recent drafts.
In contrast to Brandon Lloyd, Mitchell and Warrick were players
used to being wide open in college. They were quicker than everyone
on the field so coaches used this athletic ability in ways they
wouldn't be as successful doing in the NFL. Freddie Mitchell
has made progress each year, but the improvement has occurred
in smaller increments that have only been apparent with Mitchell's
But Yours Truly has been keeping track. Mitchell has gotten better
with route adjustments over the last two seasons. He's learned
how to break the jam, and he's gotten more consistent across
the middle. The 4th and 26 reception against Green Bay in the
playoffs may have been a turning point in Mitchell's confidence
In fact, Peter King has said that Mitchell has had the best camp
of any Eagle and Chris Mortensen mentioned in an ESPN chat (8/18)
that Mitchell looks poised to have a breakout year. Mitchell is
a player that will sneak up on everyone. Owners grew weary of
waiting for him to deliver and gave up on him last year. While
these same owners place their hopes on the next receiver that
is still a year or two away from delivering, drafting Mitchell
late should be rewarding.
skills have drawn comparisons to a raw, Terrell Owens. Calico
had 18 catches, 297 yards (an impressive 16.5 yards per catch
average) and 4 touchdowns as a rookie. Not bad for a receiving
corps that included pro bowler Derrick Mason, Justin McCareinsa
receiver the Jets gave up a 2nd round pick to acquireand
an up-and-coming Drew Bennett.
The 16.5 yards per catch is a key stat here. Steve McNair loves
to go deepif you watched the 2003 Pro Bowl, thing back
to the AFC's first offensive play where McNair completed
a 90-yard bomb to Chad Johnson. This play exemplifies the Air
McNair style of play from his days at Alcorn State. In fact, DBa
fellow owner in a re-draft league and former roommate of Terrell
Owenstold The Gut Check last week that the very first play
of the first game he ever faced the former Alcorn State quarterback,
McNair threw a bomb in his direction and he fell down (just as
All-Pro corner Dexter McCleon did versus Chad Johnson) as the
receiver he was covering caught the pass for an opening game score.
If you've followed Steve McNair's career, it's
no surprise that he likes to be aggressive early. What has gotten
in the way of McNair doing this more often has been the myriad
of receivers that have tried and failed to be the deep threat:
Derrick Mason is a great all-around performer, but in order for
him to get deep there must be other downfield threats to free
him up from a safety playing over the top. Drew Bennett is not
the permanent solution, but keeping McCareins would have been
too much of a financial headache in the long term. It also might
have cut into Calico's opportunities.
- Kevin DysonInjuries kept him of the field and weakened
- McCareinsDid fairly well, but dropped a lot of easy
scores on long passes.
- ThigpenAlways hurt.
- Chris SandersGreat speed, but hands and routes were
Speaking of Calico, the second year receiver out of Middle Tennessee
State University has been very impressive in training camp. Although
he's still had the occasional dropped pass, Calico has been
making one eye-catching play after another. The Gut Check believes
the Titans will make every effort to get Calico involved in the
passing attack early and oftenespecially in the red zone.
If they are successful, Calico could have a breakout season. But
if Calico shows inconsistency early in the season don't
panic. Mason and Bennett are capable enough to keep the pressure
off Calico until he puts it all together. With Chris Brown likely
to provide the Titans an improved running game, Calico will get
a lot of opportunities deep.
a player that has two seasons with at least eight touchdowns in
a five-year career. Taking in to account that Johnson was catching
passes from a quarterback now struggling to hold onto the second
string job in Green Bay, you can start to see why The Gut Check
thinks Kevin Johnson is truly an under-appreciated player. Former
Browns GM Dwight Clark once said Johnson has the best hands of
any wide receiver he's ever seen. True, Clark no longer
has the job but in his previous NFL-incarnation Clark was a pretty
good tight end. He also happened to practice with the best wide
receiver ever to play the game. So the Gut Check believes Clark
has the appropriate frame of reference to make this sort of statement.
At 5-11, 195 lbs., Johnson has constantly battled the perception
that he's not a go-to receiver in the NFL. The fact is,
he's perfectly capable of being more than a possession guy.
The Gut Check sees it this way from both the stats and from following
As a rookie on an expansion team the Browns used Johnson as the
primary receiver. Johnson responded with an uncharacteristically
good rookie season. The 14.9 yard per catch average should tell
you that Johnson has enough speed to get deep. Johnson's
performance dipped in every category in 2000, but he was used
differentlyespecially when Tim Couch missed nine games
that year. In 2001, Johnson and Couch resumed their connection
and Johnson had a very respectable fantasy season as his quarterback's
But for the last two years, Johnson's yard per catch average
and touchdowns dropped. The Gut Check believes the fault for this
lies with both Johnson and the Browns' organization. The
Cleveland coaching staff wanted to make Johnson a possession guy
to complement Quincy Morgan and Andrè Davis. Johnson's
average per catch and touchdowns decreased although he still maintained
at least 58 receptions per year. These stats reflect this change
of rolea role what Johnson didn't want to assume.
Prior to the 2002 season, Johnson wanted out of Cleveland. It
was rumored he wanted to be reunited with his former college quarterback,
Donovan McNabb, where he would once again be the primary receiver
on a team. The trade never happened, and it was also rumored that
Johnson sulked over not being the man in Cleveland. The coaching
staff complained that Johnson's effort declined as a result
of this change and they released him. Jacksonville picked up Johnson
and used him as a stopgap for a receiving corps in transition
before getting traded to the Ravens in the off-season.
The Gut Check thinks Johnson feels he has something to prove.
Yours Truly concedes the point that the Ravens wouldn't
have even considered Johnson before the entire Terrell Owens drama,
but Ravens' GM Ozzie Newsome is regarded as one of the most
savvy personnel men in football today. The trade for Johnson should
be seen as a well-conceived, consolation prize.
Although the Ravens offensive approach will remain similar to
last year, Marcus Robinson is gone and Travis Taylor has yet to
emerge as a consistent performer. Due to his experience working
with two young quarterbacks (Couch and Leftwich), the Gut Check
sees Johnson as a quarterback-friendly receiver that should become
a favorite target for second-year passer Kyle Boller. This combination
doesn't bode for a 1200-yard, 10-td season for Johnson,
but something in the 800-1000-yard range with 6-8 tds is entirely
feasible. Throw in the fact that Brian Billick has gone on record
to say that Johnson is everything they thought he'd be and
Travis Taylor still hasn't shown anything special, the Gut
Check feels he stands on solid ground to predict a good fantasy
performance out of Johnson in 2004.
Doug Jolleythe Raiders'
2002 draft pick out of BYU really gelled with Rich Gannon in his
rookie year gaining 363 yards out of a total of 409 over the course
of the season's last eight gamesincluding a 104-yard
effort versus San Diego. These were top ten numbers for fantasy
tight ends over this stretch. Jolley and Gannon appeared to maintain
a similar comfort level entering the 2003 season until Gannon
went down. Once Gannon was out for the season, Jolley disappeared
from the Raiders passing game. The Gut Check anticipates Jolley
will improve upon his stats from 2002, even with second year TE/WR-hybrid,
Teyo Johnson in the mix. Jolley has a better rapport with Gannon
is the more polished tight end. The Gut Check also thinks Jolley's
numbers will still be good if Kerry Collins winds up starting
(in case Gannon goes down) because the Raider's off-season
acquisition has always thrown to his tight ends (think Wesley
Walls and Jeremy Shockey). Jolley has gone virtually un-drafted
in many leagues that require a tight end. Considering how Norv
Turner likes to use the tight end (Jay Novacek and Randy McMichael)
in the passing game, this could be a steal of a pick.
Kris WilsonThis may
be one of The Gut Check's favorite players coming out of
the draft. The Gut Check spent a lot of time watching Larry Fitzgerald
last year. That also meant a steady dose of their TE. Every game
The Gut Check watched, Wilson made impressive catches all over
the field. ESPN analyst Bill Curry was highly complementary of
Wilson's skills. So when a former teammate of John Mackey,
one of the best tight ends to ever play the game, has something
good to say about a prospect like Wilson, The Gut Check takes
note of it.
Although Wilson had a couple of games where it looked like he
was making more impressive grabs than Fitzgerald, draftniks and
web scouts didn't even have Wilson rated in their top ten
tight ends. The Gut Check was beginning to doubt whether he saw
a player with excellent hands, concentration, speed, and toughness
until Chiefs drafted Wilson in the 2nd round. Turns out that Wilson
was rated as the second best TE in the draft by most NFL scouts,
but they were worried about his height (he's under 6-2).
So far, Wilson has been the star of camp and is actually making
a case to be involved in the passing game rotation during the
season. This will allow the Chiefs to split Gonzalez out as the
third WR in what at first would look like a two TE set. Although
this should help Gonzalez, it will also mean Wilson also gets
some looks. This is probably a long shot, but keep an eye on Wilson,
because the Chiefs aren't exactly stocked at WR. It's
conceivable Wilson, the 2nd best TE on the team, could wind up
being a solid fantasy option at some point this year. If Gonzalez
goes down, grab Wilson off the waiver wire as your top priority.
In this scenario, Wilson could wind up with rookie of the year
And there's The Gut Check's All-Preseason Offense.
The Gut Check was tempted to add Jimmy Smith and Travis Henry
to his team, but owners are starting to come to their senses about
their talents and drafting accordingly. Next week, The Gut Check
unveils his All-Preseason Defense.