A Pre-Free Agency/Pre-Draft Fantasy Outlook
Of Offensive Units
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!
First things first, The Gut Check has to admit his take on Shaun
King was the Turkey of all Turkeys. In fact, Yours Truly originally
sent the King article
to Krueger labeled as the Turkey Day Special. It seems to The
Gut Check that Dennis Green wasn't the only coach to lose his
sanity while in the playoff hunt. Tom Coughlin's decision to start
Manning was not the kind of message one sends to a team with a
winning record under a quarterback that has effectively led the
offense. Yours Truly is hoping for McCown to remain the Cardinals
starter for the stretch run, because McCown and Fitzgerald seemed
to be developing a nice rapport.
Plus, another owner dropped Fitzgerald in a showcase league (The
Gut Check attempted to trade Plummer for Fitzgerald and a QBeither
McNair or Garcia
Yours Truly has Donovan McNabb) after the
King debacle and this owner scooped the rookie up (along with
Keyshawn Johnson) for insurance down the stretch. Just some advice:
it's human nature for owners to give up on a player when there's
a major change to the offensive personnel and the results aren't
promisingpicking up a player while he's down can be a worthwhile
gamble, because the situation can always revert back to what it
wasand in the case of Testaverde with an explosive back
in the lineup and McCown winding up as the best of Green's choices,
that can turn out to be a good thing.
The Gut Check certainly lost out on his impatience. In his long-time
re-draft league, he dropped Jason Witten (one of his last draft
picks) during Daniel Graham's scoring streak and Marcus Robinson
after a less than impressive showing at Philadelphia. These two
moves ruined Yours Truly's seasons and vaulted another team into
the playoffs. Timing is everythingand it's often better
to attempt to deal players that you'll know you'll drop if no
one is interested. Patience is a great option tooespecially
if you are high on a player's prospects. Mike MacGregor's mentioning
of Brian Westbrook scoring 7 touchdowns in three games exemplifies
At this point in the season, one-third of you are likely playoff
bound and for the most part know which players you'll be using.
The remaining two-thirds of you are done and if you are still
checking out fantasy information, you're likely storing away nuggets
of information for next season. This week The Gut Check is going
to share his outlook on several teams' fantasy prospects heading
into next year. He's not claiming expertise or has any inside
information, this is just an opinion from someone that watches,
reads, and thinks a lot about footballjust like many of
On The Rise
Detroit LionsKevin Jones
has shown in the last three games that he adds an explosive dimension
to the running game that the Lions haven't had since Barry Sanders.
Combine him with a healthy Roy Williams and Charles Rogers and
suddenly Detroit looks like the media's 2005 version of the Jacksonville
Jaguarsan improving team that could garner some magazine-selling
predictions as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. The two areas
that make one say, "hold up now," are quarterback and
tight end. Neither position will dim the fantasy prospects of
Jones, Williams, and Rogers because they will make the average
QB look good. But this team has the potential to turn into an
offensive powerhouse if they can get above average play out of
their starting quarterback and acquire a tight end that can stay
healthy (something Stephen Alexander hasn't done in consecutive
years) and be a reliable threat in the passing game. The Gut Check
views Jones, Rogers, and Williams as potential breakout candidates
in 2005in this exact order.
Williams' chronic ankle problems drop him down Yours Truly's
list a bit. Generally, The Gut Check doesn't temper his outlook
of a player due to potential injury. Brian Westbrook is a perfect
example of a player most viewed as an injury riskbut as
Yours Truly has stated before, Westbrook's college history wasn't
riddled with on-field injuries, but off-field flukes that effected
his performance. But Williams is differenthe's had a history
of ankle problems suffered in games that linger. This is a guy
that could go either way. At his best, Williams plays like a combination
of T.O. and Randy Moss. At his worst, he'll spend at least half
his season at less than 70%.
Speaking of Westbrook's, Williams reminds The Gut Check of one
of his all-time favorite fantasy busts: Michael Westbrook. Yours
Truly has to admit that he thought Michael Westbrook was going
to be a star in the NFL. He was the first of the 6-2+, 210-pound
receivers with deep speed and running back skills with the ball.
If you saw Westbrook in his first few yearswhen healthyhe
flashed the skills that we later saw from Terrell Owens. Westbrook's
injuries and interpersonal issues with teammates might have stunted
his passion for the game he had the talent to be what T.O. is
today. When The Gut Check looks at Williams, he sees a player
that on one end could wind up as good or better than Owens, or
find himself chronically injured and teasing fantasy owners like
The Gut Check currently thinks the Lions will give Harrington
one more chance, but it won't be unconditional support. You'll
be able to gauge just how supportive the Lions are of Harrington
by the type of QB they acquire in the off-season. If it's a late-first
day/mid-round draft pick, the Lion's view of Harrington is still
optimistic. If they acquire a former or current starterKitna,
Warner, Brees, or Brad JohnsonHarrington will have to make
a huge improvement to be the 2005 starter. Personally, The Gut
Check would go for Brees or Kitnatwo signal callers that
have decent mobility, have shown leadership and class in the locker
room, and respond well to coaching.
Palmer has steadily improved this year and he's operating without
a full complement of skill players that he'll have next year.
Chad Johnson's desire to be a great player has been well documented:
sleeping in the team facility regularly so he can squeeze in extra
film time; seeking out Jerry Rice for advice on improving his
game; and setting high expectations for him self publicly. Yours
Truly wouldn't be surprised if he and Palmer agree to spend extensive
time working on their game together during the off season. It's
worked for Manning and Harrison, and McNabb and Owensthis
should become a trend among NFL quarterbacks and receivers.
Johnson aside, let's consider the rest of the receiving corps.
T.J. Houshmanzadeh has proven since his rookie year that he's
a reliable player. Based on the fact that he's been relegated
to the bottom of the depth chart in deference to Peter Warrick
and the potential of Kelley Washington, but just continues to
find his way back in the lineup and make a big contribution reminds
him of Ricky Proehl. Nonetheless, when Warrick returns and Washington
has one more off-season under his belt, the Bengals should be
capable of scoring at least 20 points per game on most teams.
The keys will be the positions of TE and RB.
The Gut Check thinks Marvin Lewis envisions Chris Perry as the
type of player that could excel out of a 1-back, 3-receiver setrecently
the most productive formation in the NFL when a team has the correct
personnel because it allows for the widest range of balanced play
- Colts: Harrison, Wayne, Stokely, Pollard, and James.
- Packers: Walker, Driver, Ferguson, Franks, and Green.
- Chargers: McCardell, Parker, Caldwell, Gates, and Tomlinson
- Panthers (last year): Smith, Muhammad, Proehl, Mangum,
- Broncos: Smith, Lelie, Watts, Putzier, and Droughns.
The Gut Check could mention more, but you get the point. Each
of these teams is as effective on the ground as through the air.
All the backs are good receiverssome more prolific than
othersand present opposing defenses with a lot to consider
at the line of scrimmage when they see this formation.
The Bengals hope Chris Perry can develop into this type of optionsomething
that Rudi Johnson doesn't offer them. Combine a more seasonedPerry
as a back that can handle 20-25 rushing/receiving opportunities
with Johnson and Washington on the outside and Warrick in the
middle, and this team could be a poor man's version of the Colts
in the AFC North. The other key is finding a receiving threat
at the tight end positionMatt Schobel has shown potential
to be effective but nothing The Gut Check has seen indicates is
a special receiver at the position. Although the level of talent
at the skill positions seems a little less exciting than the Lions,
The Gut Check thinks the Bengals offensive players a safer bet
for the fantasy owner in 2005 and definitely a unit on the rise.
Redskins have been synonymous with wasted offensive talent ever
since Joe Gibbs left Washington the first time around, but The
Gut Check believes the Hall of Fame coach will figure out a way
to maximize his offensive talent in the off season. As much as
the media pundits have criticized Gibbs for being too loyal to
Mark Brunell, there should be more made of the fact that Gibbs
has adjusted his approach to fit his talentnamely with the
running game to better-suit Clinton Portis' talents in response
to the feature back's constructive criticism of the running game.
Why is this so important? It's the glaring difference between
a great NFL coach (Gibbs) and a great college coach (Spurrier).
Both coaches were wildly successful with a specific offensive
scheme. Spurrier did not make adjustments to his system to suit
his players and performed poorly as an NFL coach. In the pros,
it's important to match the system to the talent. This is why
Stephen Davis produced like a dud under Spurrier but the very
next year in Carolina he carried them to a Super Bowl. Gibbs on
the other hand has already adjusted to Portis, which means he'll
continue to evaluate his personnel and adjust to them in the off-season.
This is what makes Gibbs great. While some coaches are great dictators
that are effectiveeventually most burn out (Parcells) or
fail (Butch Davis), others demonstrate the rare ability to view
players as worthwhile contributors to the strategy of the game
and not just game pieces (Belicheck and Jimmy Johnson). Imagine
the type of buy-in he's gotten from this team? They are valued
for their experience and knowledge as much as their physical talent
and given input into the improvement process. This is rare and
that's why Gibbs' offensive unit in 2005 will field a vastly improved
The Gut Check predicts a vertical passing game that will maximize
the talents of a hopefully healthy Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner.
The Gut Check seriously believes Gibbs can make these two receivers
a 1,000-yard tandem. The coach will install more plays that get
Portis out on the corners and involved in the passing game. Chris
Cooley has shown enough thus far to be considered a smart choice
at TEespecially as a consolation for picking Shaun Taylor
over Kellen Winslow II. Don't be surprised if Cooley becomes a
productive red zone target. Other than Portis, the WRs, TE, and
QB will be great, mid-round bargains in 2005.
Fisher has consistently fielded one of the best-coached teams
in football over the last 10 years. The Titan's 2004 performance
has been a reflection of Fisher's coaching and the injuries that
have decimated both sides of the ball. Tennessee was ahead in
several games this year, only to falter in the second halfquite
the opposite of Fisher-coached teams throughout his tenure:
- Week 2: Led the Colts after the first half.
- Week 3: Led the Jags after the 3rd quarter.
- Week 10: Led the Bears after the 3rd quarter.
- Week 12: Led the Texans after the 3rd quarter.
- Week 13: Led the Colts after the first half.
This is a 4-8 team that could very well have been 9-3 if they
were able to field a defense that wasn't missing two out of three
starting linebackers, and three starters in the secondary. Fisher's
a good enough coach to effectively game plan a strategy, but once
an opposing team figures out the talent mismatches or when to
exploit substitutes that wouldn't likely make the field if so
much talent were already on IR, the tide turns. McNair's problems
aside, the defense just isn't healthy enough to protect leads.
As Yours Truly mentioned least week, he doesn't believe McNair
will retire after the season. Call it denial, but the prospects
still look too good:
- Chris Brown provides them the best ground threat they've
had since Eddie George had a healthy season in 2000. George
never had the Brown's ability to take it the distance, either.
- Tyrone Calico should be healthy and tripled with an already
proven Drew Bennett and Derrick Mason creates a dynamic passing
game. If Calico is a question mark to get healthy, the Titans
might be high enough in the draft to get a receiver of Braylon
Edwards' caliber. It's conceivable the future rookie could make
a solid impact as a 3rd option.
- The defense will return to health and the young defensive
line should improveremember this is a team that stopped
the Packers' offense and held the Colts to a respectable total,
and neither teams' offense looked error-prone on those occasions.
- Ben Troupe and Erron Kinney will combine to make a significant
impact at the TE-spot. If Troupe can make the leap Calico appeared
to make from his first preseason to the second, the Titans offense
has the potential to be scary.
This team is talented and well coached to think it won't bounce
back in a big way. From a fantasy perspective, you'll likely see
very stratified opinions about McNair, Bennett, Calico, and Troupe.
This will be the team at the beginning of 2005 training camp were
you'll read an equal number of opinions that say these players
are over valued or under valued.
The Core Pieces Are in Place, But Need More
Taylor has a few more productive years, Bryon Leftwich is clearly
on the rise, and Jimmy Smith proved he still a productive receiving
threat. The missing link is Reggie Williams. The 1st round pick
has had moments, but it appears to The Gut Check that he's still
in the thinking stage of his NFL development. If Williams can
progress past this phase before next season and begin to play
more instinctivelytherefore maximizing his size and athleticismhe'll
take a ton of pressure off the three, core offensive threats.
It's clear Williams is still in the thinking stage. When he's
open, he doesn't consistently catch easy ballsa product
of concentration lapses from thinking too much on route running
or reading a defense. When he catches a ball, he's often rounded
off patterns or didn't run them to the correct lengthlimiting
his yardage or creating a more difficult catch to make. Missing
much of his rookie camp due to a contract hold out really hampered
The Jaguars red zone scoring percentage is among the lowest in
the league. A quality TE or the development of a big guy like
Williams will do wonders towards improving their productivity.
Although Jimmy Smith has proven capable, much of his yardage against
better teams appears to come in the fourth quarter when Jacksonville
his playing from behind and defenses are playing bit more conservative
to prevent receivers from getting past them. Just look at the
Detroit game. Jimmy Smith's touchdown pass was a route underneath
the coverage that resulted in a score because of a perfectly placed
ball in stride with the receiver, and more importantly, the safeties
did not take the best angle on Smith. Otherwise, the Lions' secondary
was initially positioned to allow the underneath stuff, but not
the big play. Williams' improvement should place Smith in single
coverage because a safety won't always be able to play on top
of the veteran receiver if Williams commands more respectthus
providing Leftwich with more deep ball opportunities.
BillsSo many people are
making the Bills out to be the second half kings of the NFL. Okay,
the Gut Check buys into part of this story. McGahee looks impressive,
Lee Evans is developing nicely, and Eric Moulds is still capable.
But there's one nagging thing Yours Truly feels people aren't
considering: Buffalo's schedule in the first half of the season
versus the second half. Anyone else notice the overall caliber
of their opponents' defenses is much worse in the second half
of the season? Arizona, Seattle, and St. Louis are pretty badCleveland,
Cincinnati, and San Francisco are even worse (the Bills' opponents
in the next three weeks). The Gut Check isn't buying the whole
Drew Bledsoe renaissance just yet. Either way they go at QB, Yours
Truly feels this position is pivotal in making this roster of
skill players a fantasy owners' dream or just wishful thinking.
McGahee should still be a favorite for 2005 with good reason.
The rest depend on the QB play.
Navigate Carefully, Icebergs Ahead
Kansas City ChiefsGreen,
Holmes, and Gonzalez are a great trio. But no one is scared of
Eddie Kennison or Johnnie Morton. The Gut Check thinks the only
reason the Chiefs aren't the AFC's version of the New York Giants
of recent years is their great offensive line. The Chiefs will
need to acquire a receiver in the open market or trade Larry Johnson.
The Gut Check thinks a Johnson and Porter deal of some sort makes
sense, although it would seem these rivals wouldn't be willing
to aid each otherbut with Al Davis, you never know
Kansas City will be looking to draft a WR and/or develop current
prospects like Samie Parkeran under-sized, but underrated,
rookie playmaker out of Oregon that caught his fair share of deep
balls throughout his collegiate career.
Oakland RaidersThe Raiders
have the raw materials, but they haven't converted the potential
into performance. The first group of players have come up big
time to time, but something always seems to get in the way such
as quarterback play, lack of a running game, or lack of consistency:
Jerry Porter, Doug Jolley, Ronald Curry, and Doug Gabriel all
have shown the talent but just when you think they're having a
coming out party, they disappear. The second group players are
the raw talents that still haven't earned the right to be on the
field consistently: Justin Fargas, Teyo Johnson, and rookies like
Carlos Francis and Johnnie Morant are excellent examples of the
Raiders targeting the athlete as a higher priority than the well-rounded
It's just the two cents of Yours Truly that in today's NFL there
isn't a lot of time and patience to wait for these guys to develop.
It seems like the Raiders thrive on picking projects at the skill
positions and it's costing them. Kerry Collins could be a steadying
influence at quarterback if the odds continue to be in the favor
of Rich Gannon retiring, but they still need a talented, every
down back and make firm decisions on which players will be their
go-to guys. Otherwise, it won't be wise for fantasy owners to
load up on Raiders' offensive players early or often in next year's
Seattle SeahawksIf the
Seahawks don't keep Shaun Alexander or acquire an equally talented
replacementwhich will be difficult to do outside of the
draftthis team will not only continue to frustrate fantasy
owners, but also won't fool anyone into taking much of a chance
on their players. There is at least one teamregardless of
the sportthat plays up or down to the level of their opponent.
The NFL has two: Seattle and New Orleans. Just look at the games
they've lost to mediocre opponents
Seattle's receiving corps most consistent threat is now Jerry
Rice! The Gut Check hasn't forgotten about Darrell Jackson, either.
Jackson seems to be regressing this year with a case of the drops
that he acquired in the locker room. Let's not even start with
Koren Robinson or Jerramy Stevenstwo physical wonders that
have shown they are capable, but haven't proven it where it counts
for fantasy owners. If Alexander goes elsewhere, Darrell Jackson
will be the sole reliable fantasy threatand his numbers
will decrease by sheer virtue of the lack of talent around him.
The Gut Check would like to give many thanks to Chris and Kevin
Sports AM in Kansas City for both the opportunity to be an
FFToday.com guest on your weekly fantasy segment during the season
and for the slab of Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue Ribs, quart
of hickory pit beans, original sauce, and all-purpose rub. Yours
Truly received them in the mail last nightMacGregor (and
anyone else that's curious and unknowledgeable to the shipment
of perishable goods), they packed them in a cooler loaded down
with dry ice.
Good luck this week!