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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 61
Second Half Wonders: Next Season’s Studs Or A Dud Of A Theory?

Rookie Scouting Portfolio 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!

It’s one of the more common reasons fantasy owners use to tout a sleeper: He had a great stretch run last season. Somehow many owners have come to believe that a high level of performance from the second half of the previous season is a good predictor for success in the following year. The Gut Check thought it might be a good idea to profile players that had a significantly better second half in 2005. These were players that haven’t been top tier players lately, or are still learning the pro game:

QB: Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson, and Kyle Boller
RB: Samkon Gado, Frank Gore, Greg Jones, and Cedric Houston
WR: Roy Williams, Reggie Brown, Amani Toomer, and Mark Clayton
TE: Adam Bergen and Chris Cooley

There are definitely some familiar faces on the list. But does history support this theory? Or does this train of thought never leave the station? The Gut Check believes you can get some mileage out of this theory, and it’s a good place to begin your search for ascending talent for the coming year. The information yours truly will provide may have some use for those of you that need additional criteria to refine your projections in the final stages of draft day preparation.

The Gut Check took a sample of offensive skill players that had a statistically significant improvement in production during the second half of a season and then checked to see how well the player maintained this level of improvement during the next season. Beginning with wide receivers sampled from 2002-2004, the Second Half Wonder Theory has some juice:

Second Half Wonders: Wide Receivers
WRs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Wayne Chrebet 6.1 9.7 37% 5 52% Hurt
Darrell Jackson 6.3 12.3 49% 11.2 91% Starter
James McKnight 2.8 8.0 65% 4.6 58% Hurt
Koren Robinson 6.8 13.1 48% 7.7 59% Starter
Travis Taylor 6.5 10.1 36% 5.5 54% Starter
Amani Toomer 7.4 15.4 52% 8.5 55% Starter
WRs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Anquan Boldin 7.4 13.1 44% 6.86 52% Hurt
Bobby Engram 4.2 8.8 52% 4.8 55% NS
Az Hakim 1.9 9.1 79% 7.13 78% Shared
Mushin Muhammad 4.4 8.8 50% 14.9 169% Starter
Todd Pinkston 3.04 6.4 53% 5.6 88% Shared
Marcus Robinson 0.9 10.8 92% 7.6 70% Shared
WRs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Drew Bennett 8.3 18.2 54% 7.5 41% Hurt
Antonio Bryant 4.5 9 50% 7.8 87% Starter
Nate Burleson 7.8 12.2 36% 3.2 26% Hurt
Lee Evans 5.7 12.8 55% 7.5 59% Starter
Joey Galloway 2.2 12.5 82% 11.2 90% Starter
T.J. Housmandzadeh 4.9 11.7 58% 10.7 91% Starter
Dennis Northcutt 3.2 8.6 63% 3.7 43% Shared
Jerry Porter 6.1 13.3 54% 7.7 58% Hurt
Donte Stallworth 5.2 8.8 41% 8.5 97% Starter
Total Sample 5.39 11.45 53% 9.35 82%

The two numbers under after the receiver’s name are the fantasy points per game averaged from weeks 1-8 and 9-17, respectively. The % column is the percentage increase from the first half of the season to the second half. Next Yr is the average fantasy points per game for the next season. Attainment is how close did the Next Yr numbers approach the production in the second half of the previous year.

The most noticeable trend is a receiver that exhibits a significant jump in production during the second half of a season has a pretty high likelihood of maintaining that jump in production if they are the starter and remain healthy during the following year. From 2003-2005 (representing “the following year,” for 2002-2004), 60% of the second-half wonder receivers that were healthy and in the starting lineup for their teams the next year attained at least 87% of their previous year’s jump in production. Five out of the six receivers were over 90% attainment and one exceeded his second half improvement. Overall, the second half wonders generally increased their production by 53% of their first half totals. In the following year they maintained at least 82% of their fantasy points per game average.

Let’s look at the second half of 2005 for these receivers I mentioned at the beginning of the column:

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. 2006* Rank**
Roy Williams DET 2005 10.2 8.87 18th
Reggie Brown PHI 2005 7.87 6.85 35th
Amani Toomer NYG 2005 8.14 7.08 21st
Mark Clayton BAL 2005 7.58 6.59 36th
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 87% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

If 2006 followed the same tendency as 2003-2005 all four receivers would at least produce as worthwhile starters in a 3-receiver starting line up in a 12-team league. Williams and Brown will be the higher profile, mid-round picks, but Toomer and Clayton could provide undervalued depth at the bottom third of fantasy drafts.

Second half wonders at running back have nearly the same probability (63%) as receivers to maintain at least 87% of that production the following year if they start and stay healthy—even higher (72%) if you only expect the runner to attain at least 80%.

Second Half Wonders: Running Backs
RBs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Tiki Barber 14.6 18.3 20% 11.6 63% Starter
Zack Crockett 3.5 8.6 59% 4.4 51% NS
Warrick Dunn 10.3 13.5 24% 11.9 88% Starter
William Green 2.7 14.3 81% 9.5 66% Hurt
Curtis Martin 9.6 13.8 30% 10.6 77% Starter
Clinton Portis 12.4 23.7 48% 21.1 89% Starter
Tyrone Wheatley 2.1 6.6 68% 6.92 105% Shared
RBs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Kevan Barlow 6.4 15.5 59% 9.7 63% Starter
Jerome Bettis 5.1 11.4 55% 12.6 111% Starter
T.J. Duckett 7.7 11.4 32% 8.3 73% Shared
Marshall Faulk 12.2 20.5 40% 9.45 46% Shared
Thomas Jones 2 10.5 81% 12.8 122% Starter
Brian Westbrook 7.7 12.3 37% 15.8 128% Starter
RBs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Tatum Bell 3 12 75% 9.4 78% Shared
Derrick Blaylock 7.4 14.6 49% 1 7% NS
Nick Goings 3.5 17 79% 1.7 10% NS
Stephen Jackson 5.4 10.3 48% 13.1 127% Starter
Larry Johnson 12.5 26 52% 21 81% Starter/Shared
Kevin Jones 6.2 15.8 61% 8.25 52% Shared
Willis McGahee 9.6 17 44% 10.8 64% Starter
Ladanian Tomlinson 16 21.4 25% 18.9 88% Starter
Total Sample 9.08 15.98 43% 13.77 86%

Three of the seven players that attained at least 88% of their previous second half productivity average actually exceeded this total over the course of the next season—and it was often a significant increase. Funny as it sounds, the player that accounted for the lowest attainment percentage from his previous season was Larry Johnson, who had one of the best second-half stretches for a fantasy runner ever. Johnson’s case is certainly one where you have to discount the attainment, especially when he still averaged over 20 points per game—a level production every fantasy owner hopes they get from a back.

Heading into this season, there are three backs that qualified as second half wonders. None of the four are slated as the undisputed starter heading into camp, but each has an opportunity to take that role before the season begins.

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. 2006* Rank**
Samkon Gado GB 2005 13.49 11.87 11th
Greg Jones JAC 2005 9.36 8.24 25th
Frank Gore SF 2005 8.57 7.54 27th
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 88% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

If Ahman Green is 100% at the start of the season, Gado will likely be the change of pace back, at best. This also depends on Najeh Davenport’s rehabilitation. Still, neither Green nor Davenport is a lock to be ready by opening day. If Gado winds up the starter, he should be almost as much of a bargain as he was in 2005.

Jacksonville’s Greg Jones has to compete with Fred Taylor, Labrandon Toefield, and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, but Jones had some impressive moments in Taylor’s absence. The selection of Jones-Drew could either signify the Jagaur’s desire to build its own big back-small back rotation, or there is a lack of confidence in Toefield or Jones to take the role. The Gut Check believes Jones showed enough promise that Maurice Jones-Drew is viewed more as a complement (although he has the talent to surprise on the level of Warrick Dunn has as a Buc and Falcon) and Toefiled as the steady depth. If Taylor remains in Jacksonville, Jones is a late-round pick, at best.

The most intriguing back on this list is Gore. The Niners’ second-year runner from Miami displayed the kind of explosion as a rookie two years removed from ACL surgery that Hurricane fans and scouts did not witness during his senior season. Gore and Barlow will vie for the starting position, but one has to think Mike Nolan will favor his draft pick if their preseason performances are similar. The addition of future Hall of Fame guard Larry Allen and the return of Jonas Jennings should bolster the offensive line for the rushing attack to improve in 2006.

The tight end position has a less dramatic points swing for second half wonders, but their attainment percentage for the following season is higher than receivers and backs.

Second Half Wonders: Tight Ends
TEs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Alge Crumpler 3.4 6.1 44% 4.6 75% Starter
Doug Jolley 3.4 6.4 47% 2.8 44% Shared
Jeremy Shockey 4.8 8.1 41% 7.2 89% Starter/hurt
Jerramy Stevens 2.3 6.1 62% 1.4 23% Shared/hurt
TEs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Jed Weaver 1.8 4.6 61% 2.3 50% NS
Boo Williams 2.1 8.6 76% 3.4 40% Shared
Jason Witten 2.0 4.8 58% 8.4 175% Starter
TEs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Ben Troupe 1.9 3.8 50% 4.4 116% Starter/hurt
Total Sample 3.1 5.84 47% 5.48 94%

Three of the four second half wonders that started the next year were nearly as good as their previous year’s stretch run, if not significantly better. Although two of these three tight ends were injured for significant portions of their follow up season, their level of production and games started were high enough to include in this sample.

Despite this nice-looking track record with the statistics, the prospects for 2006 don’t look all that great.

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. 2006* Rank**
Adam Bergen ARI 2005 3.13 2.79 23rd
Chris Cooley WAS 2005 8.14 7.24 3rd
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 89% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

Bergen had minimal success as a fantasy tight end even during his second half of 2005. At best, he appears to be a fantasy back up that should be available on most waiver wires as the season begins. Cardinals’ rookie Leonard Pope will be considered the favorite to start on opening day. Still, Bergen has potential to be a great bargain if the rookie falters.

Cooley was good enough to be a top five, fantasy producer at his position in 2005. His second half was over 2 points per game better than his first half, but the following season projections would only put him one notch above where he ended up in 2005. Any way you look at it, Cooley is a very good fantasy tight end.

Quarterbacks have the best follow up seasons when it comes to attaining their second half numbers from the season before. Once football no longer feels like practicing organic chemistry in pads, it makes sense a starting quarterback that has made the adjustment to the NFL will continue to improve. This goes for veterans changing teams—just to a lesser extent.

Second Half Wonders: Quarterbacks
QBs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Matt Hasselbeck 9.7 26 63% 20 77% Starter
Brad Johnson 15.2 20.39 25% 18.6 91% Starter
Michael Vick 20 25.7 22% 15.35 60% Hurt
QBs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Donovan McNabb 12.8 21.9 42% 23.8 109% Starter
QBs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Kerry Collins 15 22.4 33% 16.33 73% Starter
Eli Manning 7.5 12.3 39% 18.6 151% Starter
Carson Palmer 13.5 20.4 34% 20.6 101% Starter
Total Sample 12.28 20.57 40% 19.66 96%

Exactly two-thirds of the second half wonders at QB had close to the same, or better, follow up season. Two of the quarterbacks were first-year starters, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer. Although Matt Hasselbeck and Kerry Collins didn’t reach the desired attainment percentages, their fantasy totals made them decent starters—especially Hasselbeck. In fact half of the quarterbacks exceeded their second-half numbers in the follow-up season and were averaging fantasy points that made them quality #1 fantasy starters (Johnson and Manning), if not outright studs at the position (McNabb and Palmer).

Last year’s second half wonders at quarterback project as decent backups with one dramatic exception:

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. 2006* Rank**
Kyle Boller BAL 2005 17.4 15.83 15th
Kurt Warner ARI 2005 20.2 18.38 5th
Brad Johnson MIN 2005 14.7 13.38 19th
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 91% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

Boller and Johnson should be valued as solid depth in 2006 fantasy drafts. Of course, Steve McNair could ruin it if the Ravens and Titans work out a deal. Kurt Warner was a player the Gut Check was able to use for a championship stretch run, and with the addition of Edgerrin James and Leonard Pope, Warner should continue to thrive in Arizona. Is Warner worth picking as a top five, fantasy QB? The Gut Check thinks most owners will value him with more caution, but it doesn’t mean you should hope for him to slide too far down the positional rankings. Picking Warner somewhere as the 8th-12th QB off the board is probably a decent consideration.

In conclusion, here’s what to consider with second half wonders:

  • Look for players that had a season where their second half fantasy point per game average exceeded the first half by at least 40%.
  • Target the players that had this increase in production and are slated to be a starter.
  • If these starters remain healthy, you can reasonably expect similar, if not significantly better, production out of these players for the coming year.

Clearly there aren’t a lot of gems in this group, but it should give you a more realistic way to project this season’s performance of the dozen skill players that qualified as productive performers down the stretch of 2005.