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!
After a week of drafts, the Gut Check is looking forward to this
exercise in self-indulgence. Although yours truly doesn’t
claim to be psychic and he doesn’t have an impressive, 50-variable
program that cranks out accurate predictions (or makes soft drinks)
on the scale of our resident FFToday Message Board seer, the Soilist
(no kidding—his prediction of Brandon Stokley in 2004 is stuff
of legend), the Gut Check has come close to the mark a few times.
Here are some previous hits and misses from 2004-2005:
Hits (or close enough)
- Kurt Warner will be a top-5 fantasy QB (2005)—He was
down the stretch, but not all year. But that was good enough
for a title.
- Tatum Bell backs up Mike Anderson (2005)—Hit. The guy
lacks starter quality vision as a runner and that is why Mike
Bell is getting his chance in 2006.
- Kyle Vanden Bosch is a sleeper at DE (2005)—Hit. Had
a pro bowl season and was among the best ends in fantasy football.
- Favorite Rookie: Ryan Moats (2005)—He was a hit down
- Draft Matt Jones in 2005—Weak hit. He had good moments,
but he wasn’t consistent enough to say it was a solid
- Mewlede Moore is 2004’s Domanick Davis—Very close
call. He had moments, but Reuben Droughns got that honor.
- Kelly Washington will have a breakout season (2005)—The
Gut Check might as well have been in the Chiefs secondary trying
to tackle Tiki Barber last fall on this one…
- Heath Miller will lead the Steelers in TD receptions (2005)—Distant
second to Hines Ward…
- TE Alex Smith will be the most impressive rookie without
the hype (2005)—Yours truly can’t use the excuse
he meant the 49ers QB…
- Sean Jones leads CLE in tackles and becomes a stud (2005)—Miss.
- Watch Alvin Pearman and Nehemiah Broughton (2005)—Near
hit on the first, complete miss on the second.
- Doug Gabriel unseats Jerry Rice by season’s end (2004)—Miss,
but he’s about to unseat Jerry Porter—still that’s
about as impressive as unseating Jerry Lewis at this point.
- Brian Westbrook wins NFC Offensive Player of the Year (2004)—Injury
derailed a season where he was on his way…miss.
- Duce Staley top 10 back (2004)—Injuries…
The Gut Check is batting .333 over this two-year period, but
that’s only good by baseball standards—a sport that
needs to set the bar higher to compete with football. In other
words, yours truly is only doing well if you view this as if he’s
sporting a 33% completion percentage on 4th down passes of 40+
yards. Don’t worry, yours truly isn’t even convincing
him self with this argument. Then again, he’s a little more
encouraged that he went 5 for 9 in 2005—not a bad completion
percentage for a 2nd year pro in a vertical stretch offense where
screen passes and dump offs don’t count in his favor.
With this as the backdrop, here is what the Gut Check is serving
up for 2006. He has a feeling he’s going to receive quite
a few FF to The Groin Shots for some of these predictions. So
why is it baseball players wear cups and football players don’t?
Bruce Gradkowski Becomes The 2006 Fantasy
Waiver Wire Darling By Week 8:
If you’ve never heard of the Bucs 6th round pick out of
Toledo, you haven’t been reading any of The Gut Check’s
columns prior to August. Jon Gruden loves this young quarterback
for his mobility (runs a sub-4.5, 40-yard dash), accuracy, and
leadership. Gradkowski reminds his new head coach of Rich Gannon.
Gradkowski didn’t disappoint in his first preseason appearance—11
for 13 for 103(?) yards and 2 touchdowns—and delivered an
11 for 14, 193-yard 1 td, 1 int (off a tipped ball) effort in
week two. Yeah, he faced second-team defenses but so did Jay Cutler,
and he’s getting accolades throughout the football media.
No offense to the Broncos rookie—Yours truly has Cutler
as the top rookie QB of the 2006 class—but The Gut Check
is the Marc Bulger/Tom Brady player of this group—a much
better player than others graded him.
Gruden has come out and said that it will take a lot of screwing
up on his part for Chris Simms to fail as a quarterback. Still,
it only takes one play for the franchise to go a different route
(just ask Drew Bledsoe, Kurt Warner, and Tommy Maddox). The Tampa
offensive line is still a unit under construction. The run blocking
should be fine, but the Bucs were among the worst dozen units
in sacks allowed in 2005. Simms has some mobility, but he’s
known more for standing in the pocket to make the tough throw.
Personally, the Gut Check believes Simms has a chance to be special
due to his arm and quiet mental toughness. But as strange as it
sounds, Gradkowski could potentially wind up the better overall
leader. The rookie has a reputation among his former teammates
as a vocal leader who exuded the kind of charisma in the huddle
reminiscent of what other players said of Montana. Gradkowski
doesn’t’ have Simms arm, but he has the accuracy and
mobility to be a special west coast quarterback. If the Bruce
Gradkowski Cinderella story plays out in 2006, you heard it here
Marion Barber III Will Be A Viable Fantasy
Starter By Week Six:
Bill Parcells is a big fan of Barber’s game, one that is
eerily similar to Curtis Martin’s: excellent vision, decent
burst, deceiving power and balance, and third down skills. Barber
doesn’t have Julius Jones speed, but Parcells used to call
Martin “one week wonder,” because the coach’s
former back lacked that game-breaking speed on any play and he
enjoyed goading Martin to greater heights.
The Gut Check likes Barber for the same reasons and Julius Jones
has been more a flash and dash performer that has been plagued
with injuries thus far in his career. Parcells’ patience
is wearing with the bumps and bruises and Barber has looked excellent
thus far in camp. Remember, this second-year back was able to
remain the starter with Lawrence Maroney as his backfield mate
at the University of Minnesota. Maroney is an undeniable and instinctive
talent, but Barber routinely demonstrated he was more polished
in all aspects of the game.
Barber will see significant time as the third down back and change
of pace runner. One shouldn’t presume Jones will only lose
his job with any injury—Parcells is not afraid to shake
up the lineup if he spots any gaps in performance. Jones has definitely
been given a short hook in the past. This is why Barber is a good
candidate to draft for the late rounds.
Devard Darling Becomes A Household Name
As A Fantasy Receiver:
Three years ago, Darling was an underrated, rookie prospect out
of Washington State that dropped in the draft due to fears about
a possible heart condition that claimed his twin brother’s
life while they were at Florida State. Darling had no condition,
but it still made teams skittish about him. As a player, Darling
has good speed, toughness across the middle, and a penchant for
making leaping, athletic downfield grabs.
Unfortunately, Darling suffered some minor injuries and had difficulties
adjusting to the NFL in his two initial seasons with the Ravens.
He has demonstrated signs of life in camp and has made the most
of his opportunities. Last week, he posted a 100-yard game that
included a score, acrobatic receptions, and versatility all over
He’ll likely be the third receiver to start the season.
Mark Clayton is everyone’s favorite as a late round sleeper
and it’s true he has the ability to be a 1000-yard receiver.
Yet Clayton has some issues with his hamstring that have limited
him throughout the preseason. While there have been rumors the
Ravens might bring in a veteran receiver if Clayton continues
to have problems, Darling knows the offense and it’s a decent
possibility he could play himself into a starting role. Steve
McNair has never been afraid to show confidence in a young receiver.
He made Justin McCareins a viable threat during his MVP campaign,
and last year he regularly had to get the job done in Tennessee
with a trio of rookies.
Steve McNair Will Be Among The Best Fantasy
Bargains At Quarterback:
Yes, we all know he’s a Gut Check favorite, but yours truly
has been in 3 drafts in the last 4 days and McNair has been the
equivalent of that dessert you’ve been saving room for at
the end of a good meal. In two auction drafts among fantasy website
writers, McNair was the guy several team were holding back funds
to acquire in the late rounds. So the Gut Check isn’t alone
on this one.
The casual observer looks at McNair’s stats last year and
laughs at the fact he made the pro bowl. It was laughable that
he was selected after much of the elected depth chart declined
invitation, but McNair’s play last year was not a joke.
While his stats weren’t more than mediocre, consider his
receivers: not completely healthy, (Drew Bennett and Tyrone Calico)
rookies (Roydell Williams and Courtney Roby), or both (Brandon
McNair is still one of the top passers in this league. From the
standpoint of the Crank Score, the Raven’s new starter actually
had a high percentage of elite games. The main issue is his health
and that’s where most write him off as a fantasy pick. Potential
goes both ways, but most fantasy owners see potential in youth.
Sometimes you have to view potential from a different perspective—the
potential to return to form.
McNair possesses a high level of this potential for several reasons.
First and foremost, the guy can still play—in fact, from
the mental part of the game McNair sees the field better than
any rookie or second/third year quarterback not named Carson Palmer—and
yours truly would debate Palmer is significantly better, if at
all. Second, the former Titan is two years removed from major
injury or nagging problems with his legs. While he won’t
be gaining 20-30 yards at a clip like he did in his youth, he’ll
be a dangerous option inside an opponent’s 10-yard line
as demonstrated in the Ravens-Giants preseason game where he carried
two G-men across the pylon for a score.
Then there’s the Ravens defense. This unit has a top-notch
pass defense and the run defense should improve dramatically with
the return of the 4-3 alignment. An overlooked aspect of the arrival
of McNair and a healthier running game (Lewis and Musa Smith—great
late round handcuff, he looks like the back the Ravens envisioned
when they drafted him a few years ago) is that there should be
fewer three-and-out offensive series that tire out the defense.
This will allow the defense to be more aggressive and the Ravens
offense to be more balanced because they won’t have to play
a one-dimensional game.
Speaking of the offense, McNair inherits an offensive line and
receiving corps that is a significant upgrade from the 2005 Titans.
Todd Heap has been one of the best tight ends in the NFL despite
the fact he hasn’t had a quarterback anywhere on par with
his skill level. Derrick Mason and McNair (as highlighted in the
Gut Check’s pitch and catch combo study earlier this year)
are one of the more productive tandems in recent years—and
based on the preseason, they have picked up right where they left
off in Tennessee. Mark Clayton is a promising second-year receiver
that has already shown more ability than all three of the 2005
rookies McNair had as a Titan. And yours truly already mentioned
Devard Darling. There should be fewer route mistakes, which means
McNair won’t need as much time to get rid of the football.
Jamal Lewis, Mike Anderson, and Musa Smith running behind a solid
offensive line should make McNair’s job much easier. Opposing
defenses will need to respect the play action pass and both Anderson
and Smith have shown receiving skills. McNair is known to spread
the ball all over the field, so the backs should get a fair number
of opportunities as the 3rd or 4th read on a play.
The Gut Check believes these factors make McNair a fantasy quarterback
with the potential to throw 20-24 touchdowns, rush for 3-5 more,
and gain 3400-3600 yards. These are fantasy starter stats for
the price of a backup unless he gets his sternum crushed by a
Mack Truck. Of course, that’s basically what it took for
him to be ineffective anyhow. Otherwise, you can count him to
produce even if the team has to wheel McNair off the airplane
like Hannibal Lecter in his scene with the Tennessee Senator in
Silence of The Lambs. Get him after round 10 and you
just might have the best veteran bargain for the 2006 fantasy
By Week 10, Sam Hurd Will Be The Cowboy’s
#2 WR And A Fantasy Playoff Surprise:
Yes it’s true. You shouldn’t draft rookie receivers
and quarterbacks. Matthew Berry, ESPN’s analyst, is dishing
out good advice on fundamental strategy. But the Gut Check isn’t
talking about drafting free agent rookie Sam Hurd. He is only
recommending you keep an eye on him as the Cowboys receiving corps
deteriorates down the stretch. These are bold predictions mind
you; not what appears sensible and well packaged for the masses.
The Terrell Owens situation is a ticking time bomb and this time
the media is just as responsible for lighting the fuse as the
peripatetic WR and his Miami-based mouthpiece. The Gut Check doesn’t
even care who is right or wrong in the situation—he’s
completely saturated when it comes this storyline.
The real story may have to do less with “hams” and
more with hamstrings. T.O. probably did hurt his hammy. CNNSI’s
Peter King made a good point about this injury in his MMQBTE
column. Owens has a good chance to re-aggravate this injury throughout
the year—as it looks like he did again today as of writing
this column. Combine this possibility with Terry Glenn’s
history of hammy strains and pulls, and suddenly the idea of the
rookie out of Northern Illinois seeing time isn’t out of
The Gut Check rated Hurd among his top fifteen rookie receivers
in the 2006
Rookie Scouting Portfolio despite the fact he went un-drafted.
He labeled Hurd as a project with this brief write up in March:
Hurd was one of the most impressive receivers I saw on
film this year. This doesn’t make him a great NFL prospect,
but it shows he knows how to play the game. He’s tough
over the middle and has a knack for getting deep. He catches
the ball well with his hands, and is one of the more tenacious
blockers at the position in this draft class. He has NFL size
and now one on his college squad outworks him. His 40-yard and
short shuttle times were unimpressive, but he has the body control,
hands, and heart to work his way onto a roster.
Here’s his game film checklist and profile. What’s
telling about the Cowboys view of Hurd is the fact he signed a
3-year contract despite the fact he was a street free agent. That’s
a little unusual, but Dallas obviously studied this guy and liked
what they saw of him.
Judging from the first two pre-season games, the interim starter
has looked very good and has shown exactly what yours truly described
from his game film study. While everyone is talking about un-drafted
rookie Hank Baskett, Sam Hurd could very well find himself in
a starting role late this year where he delivers for a few weeks—important
weeks for any contending fantasy squad or team on the bubble that
needs some help on the waiver wire.