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20/20 Hindsight - Week 5

As we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted to learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday’s “Fantasy Football Confessional.”

This week I serve up a full course meal of “Hindsight(s)” that begins with some nice takes on rookies, but ends with a dessert of crow that is for my consumption only. Good thing there’s so much on the menu, because the FFTOC appetizer isn’t too hardy of a meal:

FFTOC Update
 Pos  Player  Pts  Comments
QB B. Leftwich 17.8 Better than Palmer’s output last week…
RB D. Foster 11.8 Last minute change of mind when I had Frank Gore here—in essence, a 6-point penalty for changing in mid-stream
RB L. Jordan 8.1 Figured this might be his last decent game, but that was last week.
WR Reg. Williams 11.3 Decent week coming off a 2-TD effort against Washington.
WR T. Williamson 1.1 A total dud.
WR G. Jennings 16.5 The only rookie “sleeper” I might have liked more than Jennings was Bruce Gradkowski—he was a better start than Lefty for 3 of my teams.
TE E. Johnson 2.3 The streak of picking a productive TE ended this week.
K J. Kasay 8.0 Decent, but nothing special.
DEF Colts 3.0 Should have thought more about the fact that sacks and the name Vince Young wouldn’t be as synonymous as they were with Collins
  Total 82.3 Pretty big dip from the past two weeks.

I made four key errors with my picks this week. The first was a last-minute choice of Foster over Gore that cost me six points. Cleveland’s rush defense might be bad, but Oakland is a team in total disarray. The decision to go with Troy Williamson’s play is like choosing that beautiful, talented woman/man (ladies, I know you’ve been suckered as well) that displays moments of wonder in one breath and makes you wonder what the hell you were thinking the next. Unfortunately, I took the risk and I’m now left wondering if I’ll make up the ground I lost.

As for Eric Johnson? Outside of Randy McMichael, Alex Smith, and Antonio Gates, these were the only decent performances from tight ends eligible for my use. The Colts game was a total surprise, but in hindsight the absence of Corey Simon was another strong pre-game indicator that the Indy defense would continue to struggle against the run. The problem was I didn’t believe Tennessee’s defense would play so well. I also didn’t think about the fact that I used team defenses against the Titans when concrete-footed Kerry Collins was under center. These four errors cost me at least 30 points and a chance to maintain my standing. I will need a seriously big week to make up ground.

Would've (From The Who Would Have Known File)

Rookie Bruce Gradkowski Would Have An Impressive Debut
Anyone reading my columns would probably be aware this was a possibility. ESPN’s Bill Simmons is highly entertaining, but he’s not trying to seriously convince you that a guy lacks the skills to play quarterback in the NFL because his name doesn’t sound right for the role. It’s only one game, but Gradkowski was exactly what I’ve been talking about for months—a match for Jon Gruden’s profile of a promising west coast offense quarterback.

Gradkowski got rid of the ball quickly, used his legs to gain yardage when no one was open, and threw the ball away when under pressure. The rookie from Toledo looked like the same player I studied for the 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Did you see his long completion to Galloway in the 4th quarter off play action? The fake was so good, Gradkowski literally stood seven yards deep with the ball behind his back, like a statue, before launching a pass that was right on the money. It was the type of play fake that caught the defense so off guard you only see them in college. He also didn’t lock onto one receiver. He distributed the ball to seven different receivers—four of them had at least three catches.

Then there’s his leadership. The coaches at the East-West Shrine Game raved about his presence in the huddle and the stories relayed to them from Toledo about his poise. He rallied the Bucs around him on Sunday. Did you ever see the Bucs offense and defense as pumped up when Chris Simms hooked up for a score? Remember, Tampa is still a team with a lot of quality veterans. Gradkowski’s impact was very noticeable. In fact, the Bucs were two plays away from tying or winning this contest: A perfectly thrown slant that Galloway dropped, but would have gained at least enough yardage to get into field goal range and an illegal contact penalty that called back a beautifully timed, rainbow to Ike Hillard for about 35-40 yards that would have put Tampa inside the five-yard line.

As I mentioned, Gradkowski’s quick decisions, play action skills, and mobility also helped eased the burden of the running game. Cadillac Williams finally had a 100-yard performance and there was enough balance to the offense to afford the Bucs defense to get some rest. I told you weeks ago, Caddy would be a great buy low candidate around Tampa’s bye week—did you listen? The Bucs face a mediocre Cincinnati defense next week, but the Bengals are coming off a bye. This should be a stiffer test for the Toledo rookie, but I believe the Buccaneers appeared to have a different attitude with Gradkowski at the helm. Don’t be surprised if Tampa goes on a winning streak. The rookie will have his ups and downs, but he’s not a guy to take lightly.

Could've (From The Who Could Have Known File)

Deuce Mcallister Would Be Off To Such A Good Start
The Saints’ starter is coming off an ACL tear and averaging 4.8 yards per carry with 4 scores in 5 games! All summer, I see training camp footage of McAllister limping or looking gimpy through the hole in practices and now he’s plowing over runners and making nifty cut backs at the line of scrimmage. If I hadn’t seen three Saints games this year I would be prone to believing this whole ACL injury was a sham. The fact is McAllister doesn’t have the burst he once did, but he benefits greatly from the addition of Drew Brees and Reggie Bush.

Brees is so consistent the opposing defense must always respect the pass rather than key on down and distance situations that usually signal a run. It is Brees’ play that allows Sean Payton’s staff to mix up the play calling to keep defenses off balance. This benefits McAllister on draws and delays. If you watched the Saints, you noticed McAllister gets his fair share of attempts on these designed runs.

Reggie Bush’s presence only enhances what benefits McAllister. The Saints routinely place Bush in the formation as a wide out and run a fake reverse. This play, the draws, and delays all have one thing in common: give McAllister more room to hit the hole hard while minimizing the need to use stop-start moves to change direction at the line of scrimmage. The play designs are working with great success and McAllister is getting into the second level of the defense untouched.

Speaking of the Heisman winner, Bush is averaging nearly a yard less per carry (3.7) on the ground. The contributing factor is a strained Achilles tendon injury he suffered in the opener that the FOX commentators mentioned as a little-known, oh by the way moment during the contest. I’ve had a minor Achilles tendon injury and I can attest it’s difficult to plant, change directions, or run hard without severe discomfort. You feel as if the tendon is going to rip. Now the only thing Reggie Bush and I have in common is we’re about he same height, close to the same weight, and we have the same dynamic cutting ability…mine was on display when I put such a wicked move on Urlacher that he completely missed me and de-cleated Ray Nitchske. Then I swatted Ronnie Lott like a fly with my stiff-arm and left Darrell Green in the dust for a 95-yard score. Then I woke up Monday morning and worked on this column.

Dreamland aside, Bush isn’t 100% and if you notice, his sick cuts or reversals of field have not been on display. It’s not because he can’t do it against the NFL competition. He’s not healthy enough to do it. Bush has been compared with Ladainian Tomlinson in terms of ability, and the Chargers back only averaged 3.6 yards per attempt as a rookie. The point is don’t be too quick to write off Bush’s potential to be a true phenom, and continue starting McAllister until you see Bush do one of those Baby-Matrix moves Joe Horn is expecting very soon.

Should've (From The I Knew I Should’ve File)

Resisted The Urge To Recommend Kevan Barlow Over Willis Mcgahee
On The Gridiron with Chad Dukes, a weekly Saturday segment on KZON Phoenix (11am PST) where I appear, I was asked to choose between Barlow and McGahee. Neither was a good option versus excellent run defenses, but I wasn’t feeling it for the Bills starter. I’d like to use the Troy Williamson defense as my reason here but if Williamson is like that beautiful, talented interest that has you riding the rollercoaster, Barlow is that moment many of us had (or will have) where we knew we were walking down a dead end street but didn’t heed the warning signs. While the difference in fantasy points between Barlow’s minus four-yard effort and McGahee’s 65 total yards was negligible, it might have been enough to decide a win/loss. If the guy that asked for my advice is reading this, I hope you were wiser than me. If not, then I offer my apologies to you for horrible advice.

Compiled A List Of Players I Don’t Like So You Can See The Frame Of Reference On My Advice When Comparing Close Calls Between One Player And The Ones On This List
We all have our biases. I try to limit mine as much as possible, because objectivity helps you win in fantasy football. Still, I have some players that I just don’t like their game or something about their public persona. Admittedly, it can negatively alter my view on their potential to have a good week, season, career, etc.

Without further ado, here’s a start to my running list that I’ll update throughout the year as I think of more.

Keyshawn Johnson—I think this guy is the patriarch of the diva-like behavior of this generation’s NFL receivers. CNNSI’s Peter King relayed a story this week about T.O. telling his new teammates he was misunderstood, and he was like Keyshawn. I could rest my case there, but I’d rather list the details. Johnson comes out of USC with a ton of hype. He’s big, has great hands, and can run after the catch. But he’s slow, kind of like fellow USC-alum and Detroit Lion, Mike Williams. The problem I have with Johnson is his raging insecurities. He arrives in New York and within a year has an autobiography where he badmouths a teammate. Not only a teammate, but also one that delivered more often clutch and demanded more respect with a lot less fanfare—Wayne Chrebet. Johnson winds up in Tampa, and while mic’d on a Monday Night broadcast, he badmouths possibly the best receiver in the game for the past decade—Marvin Harrison—and then pouts when the Colts all-pro torches the Bucs in one of the most amazing 4th QTR comebacks in history. Soon after, Johnson gets kicked off the team and winds up in Dallas. Johnson is a terrific possession receiver and blocker, but the combination of his attitude and limited upside biases my take from time to time. Kevin Rodgers of 790 The Ticket in Miami understands what I’m saying…

Matt Leinart—He’s new to my list, but I have that same feeling about the guy as I do with the others that appear here. I actually had Leinart ranked high in the 2006 RSP and specifically mentioned he would be the clear cut, top rookie QB if his arm strength were better in the several games I studied in 2005. I can’t put my finger on what it is about the Cardinals new starter, but it’s the way he projects his confidence.

Tom Brady projects confidence, but his arrogance has the chip on the shoulder quality where it’s as if you can hear him saying, "Go ahead count me out, because when I’m through you’re never going to forget that you did." Leinart seems more like the kind of guy that says: "I’m good and if you don’t think I’m good, I’ll be disappointed." It’s not as overtly brash as Keyshawn’s attitude, but it’s there. Really, it’s not a bad thing to be confident, but as a fan the perceived source of motivation doesn’t appeal to me because it appears as spoiled. On the other hand, Gradkowski appeals to me because his confidence sounds more like: "I don’t care what anyone thinks or even notices I’m a player, I’m too busy having a good time with my teammates while I’m beating your ass."

Leinart had a very good debut in his own right. It will be surprising if he doesn’t have success down the line, but I’ll ever have the connection to him. This is more telling about me and my underdog mentality and my disdain for the front-runner than anything about Leinart personally. And no, I don’t have a bias against the Trojans. USC wasn’t that good when Keyshawn was there, anyhow.

Tatum Bell—Honestly, I have no idea why I am biased against this runner. The only thing I can point to is the lack of vision he displayed as first and second-year player. I have a feeling I’m going to be changing my mind about him as he continues to mature.

Brad Johnson—Johnson is the ultimate underdog in the sense that he is very much a self-made player. This should make me like the guy, but it’s his mistake-free, conservative style of play that lacks excitement. I’d like this guy if he was running my favorite team’s offense—if that team had a back like Larry Johnson or Ladainian Tomlinson—because he makes the safe play under pressure and keeps your team in the game, provided the rest of the team doesn’t mess up and let the game get out of hand. He’s like the fantasy football version of celery: It’s pretty good for you, but it needs something else to make it great.

Nagging Feelings—Week 6
Is Pittsburgh done? I think the wheels are falling off and by they time they regroup it may be too late for them. They will need Palmer or McNair to miss significant time and take advantage of some of the softer opposition ahead on their schedule. I didn’t realize the offense would miss the talents of Antwaan Randle El as acutely as they do. But when I think about the Redskins receiver’s talents as a passer, it makes me wonder why the Falcons and Bucs never used Bert Emanuel is this capacity—two words: no imagination. You have to give Cowher credit for taking chances.

I like the Steelers acquisition of Najeh Davenport to eventually complement Willie Parker, but the passing game is pretty out of sync. At the same time, Ben Roethlisberger is a deceptively good passer. I’ve seen him make a throws that look odd, but turn out to be better than what most quarterbacks in this league could make. I can see how he could eventually become a solid fantasy starter, I just don’t know if the progression of his career will foster that into a reality.

The Titans had a nice effort against the Colts Sunday. This is typical of Tennessee in their recent salary cap-strapped years and what I believe will turn out to be a compliment to their coach Jeff Fisher. When I watch the Titans I see a team that on any given drive does 8 out of 10 things right. The first lapse seems to be something that puts them in a hole and the second lapse comes just as they are about to dig their way out. The play call and for the most part the execution are solid, but it so often seems as if one player comes up just short. It’s always someone different. Is it bad coaching, lack of on-field leadership, or lack of talent? I’m more inclined to believe it’s the last two, but I have a feeling we’re going to find out next year. If Fisher winds up in Baltimore, my conversion to the dark side will be complete.

I’m into lists today. This one has no explanation. Its just filled with players I feel are on their way back to fantasy prominence in the second quarter of the fantasy season: Marc Bulger; Cadillac Williams; Anquan Boldin; Chad Johnson; Reggie Wayne; and Randy McMichael.

I don’t think Mike MacGregor will be trading with me much next year with Bernard Berrian as the leading fantasy receiver though week five. Seriously, it’s about time I got one that worked in my favor. Here’s an excerpt from our Building A Dynasty Blog this spring:

The one deal I did make this month was with Mike. I picked up Bernard Berrian (once I knew he spelled it "Berriam," and read his comments in his entry, I figured he wasn't too attached) for my 12th pick in the 4th round. The Bears receiver was a player I really liked when he was at Fresno State where he helped make David Carr look like a future, 1st overall pick. In fact, Mike was picking one spot ahead of me in that rookie draft and nabbed Berrian at the end of the third round--just where I hoped to acquire him. Granted, Berrian is nothing special right now, but he's demonstrated a knack to get deep and I was impressed with his play versus the Panthers in the playoffs. I know Mark Bradley is the favorite receiver of the future, but the guy is recovering from an ACL tear. I think Berrian gets a nice opportunity in Chicago opposite Muhammad and for my squad, acquiring Berrian was like having a 3rd round pick.

What can I say, it’s about the only victory me or the rest of the league is going to have against Mike’s true dynasty, especially if Larry Fitzgerald’s injury is serious. I can’t rely on 49ers cornerback Walt Harris to give me 3-interception games on a weekly basis.