Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Staff Writer
Email Matt

Matt's Articles

The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 120
Below the Radar Long Shots

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!

I enjoy spotting players who I believe have the skills to excel at the NFL level, but for various reasons selected late in the draft. Last year one of my long shots was Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw, the Marshall product who had a strong showing in the playoffs. There are several players drafted in the later rounds who caught my eye this year. One of them, Bills RB Xavier Omon, I have mentioned frequently on the FFToday forum thread and for my publication, The Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

The player I’m profiling today is a wide receiver. The book on the top receivers in the 2008 draft class is mixed. This crew has big redzone threats with questionable speed, speedy small school prospects with questionable hands, and a few players with one good year at a big-time school, but lack a solid portfolio. If you’re looking for the next blue chipper in the vein of Andre Johnson, Braylon Edwards, and Calvin Johnson, you won’t find anyone with that reputation in 2008.

The receiver who stood out as a potential surprise is former Wisconsin playmaker Paul Hubbard, the sixth round pick of the Cleveland Browns. Most sixth round picks are 50/50 propositions to make a final roster. I believe Hubbard will have a strong opportunity to challenge for significant playing time in 2009, but even his 2008 prospects have a chance to be better than expected. The reasons for my optimism have to do with his situation, his talents, and the specific nature of his flaws.

Life in Cleveland

The Browns were a prolific fantasy offense in ’07. Cleveland and Indianapolis were the only two NFL teams to have one player in the top six of fantasy scorers (standard scoring) at each offensive skill position. Cleveland’s defense was 21st in the league with 382 points allowed, which was a contributing factor. Since they did little in the draft or free agency that will have a short-term impact, anticipate the Browns to have the same offensive M.O. as last year.

The QB situation in Cleveland has potential for its own discussion, but as long as Derek Anderson continues to improve and overcome the Scott Mitchell Syndrome (where teams figure out your game after a great debut season), he’ll start. There’s no question that Braylon Edwards took his game to the next level. He and Kellen Winslow provide a strong inside-out/deep-short matchup problem. But Cleveland’s offense is more like the Cincinnati Bengals than the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, or Indianapolis Colts: they lack that third pass-catching threat that will force defenses to play honest more consistently. Interestingly enough the Pats, Cowboys, and Colts were missing their third threat much of the year with injuries to Ben Watson, Terry Glenn, and Marvin Harrison, respectively. Yet, they had enough depth to compensate. The Bengals could get shut down if teams with strong run defenses double covered the receivers and dared Carson Palmer to hit their non-existent TE or run the ball.

The Browns can run the ball, but that third receiver is a problem. They brought in free agent Joe Jurevicius two years ago and this off-season the are hoping Donté Stallworth will be more his first half of 2006 in Philly than is 2007 in New England. Travis Wilson is a third-year receiver out of Oklahoma who garners praise in minicamp but hasn’t shown much else. Joshua Cribbs is a former quarterback who has done a great job of becoming one of the best return specialists in the league, but is not a natural at receiver.

With Jurevicius nearing the end of his career and Stallworth a predictable mid-season hamstring injury waiting to happen, a rookie like Hubbard could see time if he proves he’s ready. Is it a long shot? Yes, but if you watch enough pro football no one would feel confident making a wager that Jurevicius and Stallworth can make it through a season based on past history.

The Skills

When considering Hubbard the first thing that stands out is his size and athleticism. Hubbard is 6-3 and 221-lbs timed at 4.38 in the forty. How many receivers have that kind of size/speed combo in the NFL?

Size/Speed Combo
Player Height Weight Forty
Paul Hubbard 6'3" 221 4.38
Randy Moss 6'4" 210 4.4
Terrell Owens 6'3" 224 4.6
Marques Colston 6'4" 231 4.55-4.6
Braylon Edwards 6'3" 212 4.48
Larry Fitzgerald 6'3" 226 4.55
Brandon Marshall 6'4" 222 4.55-4.6
Plaxico Burress 6'5" 232 4.55-4.6
Andre Johnson 6'3" 219 4.4
Calvin Johnson 6'4" 237 4.4
Reggie Wiliams 6'4" 223 4.55-4.6

Moss, Owens, Edwards, and the Johnsons are it. And at the combine Owens ran a 4.6 in the forty. So from the standpoint of these three measurements there are only five players in the league who match or exceed Hubbard with this combo.

Hubbard also sports 39-1/2-inch, vertical leap, not as impressive as the reported 51-inch, verticals from Owens and Moss or the 44-inch from Calvin Johnson, but it still beats his teammate Braylon Edwards (38), and many others, including Plaxico Burress (38) and Andre Johnson (35).

It would seem easy to write off Hubbard as merely a track athlete. He came to Wisconsin as such, participating in the 100 meters, triple jump, and long jump. Yet, I think he’s really a football player with track skills. Other evaluators say he looks the opposite, but I believe they are discounting the most important factor: how a player handles contact. Hubbard does not shy away from contact. San Diego’s 2007 first round pick Craig Davis shied away from contact more than Hubbard and he wasn’t seen as a track athlete. The same goes for Robert Meachem. Hubbard may have to work on finer points of the game, but he handles the physical aspects of the game and that is what is most important.

I watched Hubbard have an excellent game versus Michigan where he exhibited the skills one seeks from a quality pro receiver:

  • Receptions In Traffic: Hubbard caught balls where the defensive back had the opportunity to contest the pass and be physical with the receiver. There are so many guys who lack this ability. I thought the Giants Steve Smith was the best of the bunch last year at this skill. Craig Davis and Robert Meachem had difficulty with contact and lost their concentration easily. In the NFL you are going to get nailed at some point in a game if you go across the middle. At best, a receiver will have a DB in close coverage which is often a distraction for less polished players.

  • Adjusts To The Football On The Run: The rookie demonstrated that his athleticism translates well to the field. He caught balls over the middle (with the threat of contact) or over his shoulder where he had to adjust his body to the ball. He snatched a pass on the run that was thrown over his head and behind him on an in-route that was indicative of what he’ll need to do as an NFL player.

  • Power After The Catch: Hubbard isn’t the second-coming of Terrell Owens in this respect, but he regularly gained yardage after the catch with a display of second effort and power to keep fighting for yards after the initial wrap-up.

  • Good Route Runner For College Football: Hubbard wasn’t a one-dimensional route runner like so many other highly-touted prospects who have underwhelming starts in the NFL. Most athletic receivers in big-time programs run hitches, screens, crosses, slants, and go routes. The better route runners show proficiency with the dig-route, deep out, and skinny post. I find that if an offense has a receiver run an in-route of 15 yards or deeper (dig), he’s generally a solid route runner. Hubbard is that guy. He was also smart enough to play all three receiver positions at Wisconsin.

  • Hubbard Catches The Ball With His Hands: I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. There are several players rated higher than Hubbard who labeled as having inconsistent hands, but they cradle catch the football. One of these players is Arizona rookie Early Doucet. The LSU star made some very tough catches in traffic during his college career, but what concerned me was his technique. I believe we will see far more disconcerting drops from Doucet as a pro, because he is going to be hit frequently upon making contact with the ball. Good hands technique makes it more difficult for a defender to jar the ball loose with a hit than a cradle catch. One of the knocks on Hubbard is his inconsistency catching the ball, but the fact he has good fundamental technique means it will be far less difficult for him to improve than a player like Doucet. Think about Troy Wiliamson. Athletically speaking, the newest addition to the Jaguars receiving corps was a first round quality athlete. The problem is he relied far too much on cradle catching the football. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice, who often displayed good hands technique but suffered through slews of dropped passes early in their careers. Both improved enough to become superstars because their technique was already fundamentally sound.

Why He Dropped

I have seen analysis from other sources such as that says Hubbard “has to have some of the worst hands in this draft class…” and “…he will body catch or trap the ball often….” While it’s possible I just happened to see Hubbard on his best day, here’s a YouTube film clip with different game highlights that shows additional evidence to support my view. He cradled two balls in this montage that has at least a dozen throws—most with solid to tight coverage and Hubbard had to make a physical adjustment to catch the ball away from his body. Maybe the Michigan game and these 10 throws are the only ones where he caught the ball with this hands, but maybe Tom Brady’s success is the product of smoke and mirrors – somehow I doubt both theories.

The other issue was the torn MCL Hubbard suffered as a senior that caused him to miss five games last year. The only other injury Hubbard has experienced to my knowledge is a concussion that forced him to miss much of a game versus Northwestern as a junior. This means there are limited opportunities to see Hubbard perform because he didn’t start until he was a junior and missed five games as a senior. also said that Hubbard “looks more like a track man trying to play football.” If this is the predominant view of the rookie then it’s no wonder he dropped to round six.

What the Browns Think

The Browns actually traded a future pick to get Hubbard because they felt his value was higher than where he dropped in the draft. According to Plain-Dealer beat writer, Mary Kay Cabot, Browns GM Phil Savage said “he wouldn’t draft a receiver unless the player was better than the trio competing for the final spot: Syndric Steptoe, [Travis] Wilson, and Steve Sanders.” Furthermore, Savage has greater expectations for the rookie, “When Joe [Jurevicius] decides to retire, after this season or next season, we’re hoping Paul can fill that role. He’s a bigger receiver and gives us a chance to still play that elevated passing game.”

Although minicamp is far from the real deal, Carlos “Big C” Holmes of the Dayton Daily News said Hubbard caught the ball well, ran routes “like Magellan,” showed good acceleration, fought off press coverage, demonstrated good separation, and displayed a great vertical jump. He summed up the receiver as “a raw talent, but there are those who believe that once he hones his skills he could be an impact player for the Browns. Judging by the receiver’s performance in minicamp he could be on his way.”

Plain-Dealer writer Toni Grossi said, “[Hubbard’s] his hands may be a problem.”

Again, I’d emphasize the fact that Hubbard needs to work on his consistency, but his basic technique is there. My bet is that Hubbard is more of a Terrell Owens type of developmental player in regards to his pass catching than a Troy Williamson.

If I’m right, Hubbard could be a player who far outplays his draft day value by 2009 and if Jurevicius or Stallworth get hurt, maybe earlier.

Quick Snaps: Other Long Shots with Promise

QB Josh Johnson, Tampa Bay: When your former college head coach is so enamored with your skills that he breaks out the game film of you to NFL scouts who visit his current program to evaluate players, that’s impressive. This is exactly what former Colts QB and current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh did last year. He raved about Johnson’s skills. What jumps off the film is his ability to stay poised in the pocket, slide from pressure that’s very close to him, maintain good form with the ball, and keep his eyes downfield. This is what the best quarterbacks in the NFL do and the great talents with potential who never translate can’t.

TE Kellen Davis, Chicago: One of the best tight ends on my position rankings in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. His senior year was the only decent season in his college football career that was plagued by issues [not completely known to Davis] with the John L. Williams regime and an off the field incident. From the standpoint of physical skill and hands, Davis is pretty close to an elite prospect from his on-field performance. He adjusts well to the ball in the air and tight coverage. I read the Bears GM sees Davis as primarily a blocking TE, but I’m sure Lovie Smith and staff will know he’s much more than a future road grader to play the second TE in short yardage situations. If not, he may bounce to another team and make the Bears look foolish down the road.

RB Xavier Omon, Buffalo: A lot has already been said about Omon. I believe he has enough skill to be a quality back up to Marshawn Lynch and a surprise of the Bills need him to fill-in.

RB Cory Boyd, Tampa Bay: The South Carolina runner has the size of Matt Forte, similar speed in the forty, and breaks tackles. He’s also a strong receiver. The Bucs have a crowded depth chart and Boyd had a minor ding to his knee in minicamp, but if he can stay healthy this summer, I see him getting a shot. Especially if Earnest Graham is deluded by his agent into thinking he really has bargaining power.

RB Kregg Lumpkin, Green Bay: The undrafted free agent from Georgia is technically as sound of a runner as you will find in this draft class. An ACL tear, and MCL sprain, and a broken thumb kept him from establishing himself as the man in a crowded backfield situation during his career. When he did play, he demonstrated why he was 1-2 with Reggie Bush as a Parade All-American coming out of high school. If he can regain some of that half back speed he lost while rehabbing his ACL tear, I think he could beat both Deshawn Wynn and Brandon Jackson for the Packers’ #2 spot. At worst, the Packers convert this big back into a fullback. Personally, I hope he gets a true shot at halfback because his vision, power, and hands are top shelf.

WR Steve Johnson, Buffalo: Another good athlete with the “inconsistent hands” label. Johnson has a real chance to develop in Buffalo, especially if James Hardy can’t avoid trouble off the field.