Below The Radar Long Shots: Bargains
From The Basement
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!
a fantasy football owner there’s little more satisfying than
spotting a bargain. The Gut Check’s first bargain was a RB
taken in the 6th round out of Georgia by the Denver Broncos who
gained 1484 total yards and 8 scores as rookie. Not bad for a third
down back that played sparingly behind Garrison Hearst.
There have been far more draft day and free agent robberies that
have gone un-prosecuted in the past decade. The Patriots shoplifted
Tom Brady in round six. The Saints didn’t recognize the
gem they picked in Marc Bulger in the 6th round. Neither did their
division rival, the Falcons, who let him slip through their fingers
to the Rams in what should be considered a highway robbery. Of
course Atlanta once purloined a Dirty Bird in the 7th round by
the name of Anderson.
Are you enjoying these legendary swindles? The Gut check is saving
some of the best for last. Green Bay pilfered Donald Driver from
the bottom of the barrel in the 7th round. Last year, Marques
Colston was looted just prior to irrelevancy. Speaking of irrelevant
players, the Niners pirated Jeff Garcia and the Rams poached Kurt
Warner. Pittsburgh pulled a fast one with the signing of a UNC
bench player by the name of Parker. Then there’s the ultimate
act of grand larceny the occurred the day the Ravens signed a
Priest from Texas that was playing second fiddle to an eventual
Grass Valley Yoga Instructor.
These players all epitomize the phrase, “One man’s
trash is another man’s treasure.” Where several teams
saw too tall, too small, too slow, or too unproven at least on
team saw great vision, great hands, great instincts, and great
effort. Admittedly, until these players proved they embodied more
of the positive aspects on the field of play, they were considered
nothing but long shots.
The Gut Check has a long shot he believes possesses the skills
and opportunity to prove he not only belongs on an NFL roster,
but also has the talent to fill the box scores with numbers that
could make fantasy football owners happy on many a Monday morning.
Bradshaw, a 7th round runner acquired by the New York Giants
that left Marshall early for the NFL draft.
Last year the Gut Check evaluated Mike Bell for his 2006 Rookie
Scouting Portfolio and gave the Arizona back a score of 85,
which equated to runner with potential to eventually start for
an NFL team. It was a surprise Bell wasn’t at least drafted, but
teams chose to see this talented back with good vision, low pad
level, and good acceleration running behind a sub par team as
an unproductive player. But Denver wound up signing Bell and the
rookie led the team in rushing scores and made 2nd round pick,
Tatum Bell expendable.
The Gut Check gave Ahmad Bradshaw a score of 88 in his 2007
edition of the RSP and rated him 4th overall among runners
in this draft class. Although Bradshaw dropped to the Giants in
round 7, yours truly stands behind his evaluation. The rookie
fell primarily for two reasons: slightly below average straight-line
speed and two off-field incidents. But there are three reasons
why the Gut Check believes Bradshaw has a chance to make an impact
at the next level.
Before the Gut Check summarizes some of these skills he wants
to make a point about his evaluation process. Yours truly observed
Bradshaw in both a statistically significant game versus UCF and
with mediocre results from productivity standpoint against UT.
Generally, the Gut Check has discovered that a more telling indicator
of a player’s talent is his performance against a tougher defense,
but stats don’t really matter as much as that player meeting or
exceeding the criteria of what makes a talented runner. The criteria
are comprised of skill sets that help a player make good plays
in game situations, but the results aren’t always reflected in
their stats. A good example was Joseph Addai’s senior year performance
against a very talented Auburn Tiger defense that did a nice job
stacking the line to take away the ground game. Despite this fact,
Addai displayed all the skills one would want from a future NFL
The first eye-popping skill one notices from this rookie is his
vision. Bradshaw is a highly patient runner who allows blocks
to develop, but it is his excellent peripheral vision the separates
him from all but maybe three backs in this draft. One of the best
situations to view a runner’s vision is against a defensive line
and linebacker corps that overmatches the opposing offensive line.
This is most evident in short yardage situations. The Gut Check
was privy to this situation involving Bradshaw when Marshall faced
a stiff, Tennessee Volunteer run defense. Despite the UT defense
getting frequent penetration in the backfield and quickly filling
the holes the Marshall line attempted to open, Bradshaw regularly
found the soft spot in the defense for the first down.
The second is Bradshaw’s short area quickness and agility. This
runner doesn’t need to take false steps to change direction. He
makes strong cuts regardless of how fast he is moving in another
direction. There are a lot of backs that can make the quick cut,
but lack the overall wiggle in running style that allows them
to create room in tight spaces. The Gut Check has seen Bradshaw
use a variety of moves but with an economy of east west direction
that made him highly effective as a downhill runner. The ability
to use head fakes, jump cuts and shoulder fakes in tight spaces
while slashing through an opening that might seem out of Bradshaw’s
range of vision reminds the Gut Check of what made Ricky Watters
and excellent back for several years.
Then there’s Bradshaw’s compact running style. The former All-Conference
USA player isn’t the biggest back, but his ability to maintain
a low pad level, anticipate contact, and deliver a blow before
the contact meets him makes him a special runner between the tackles.
What fellow 5-9, 195-lb. back coming out of school does this remind
you of? Yours truly immediately thought of Emmitt
Smith—a back with possibly the best short area moves and peripheral
vision in recent memory. It’s just a comparison of their strengths,
not their total game.
Like Smith, and unfortunately for Bradshaw, the rookie was also
slow in the 40-yard dash—he ran a 4.6. But think about the 40-yard
dash and what it is supposed to mimic on a football field:
- Straight-line speed
- Running away from defenders once 10-15 yards past the hole
untouched—and how often does this happen in an NFL game?
- Long range acceleration
In a league where a 10-15 yard run is gained with the similar
frequency that a college runner would gain 30-40 yards, long-range
speed is overrated. A more accurate combine number may be the
20-yard shuttle, which mimics:
- Change of direction
- Stop-start movement
- Short area burst
These three skills are all important to a runner as he gets the
ball at the line of scrimmage and has to elude defenders shooting
the gap and penetrating into the backfield. This type of quickness
is also important when spotting a hole and exploding through it.
Let’s compare Bradshaw’s 20-yard shuttle time with some of the
rookies from draft classes between 2005-2007:
One of the things the fly off this table is the fact Ronnie Brown
has such a fast time for a larger back. This type of athleticism
from a big back is something that scouts saw from him on film
and contributed to his 1st round draft status. Although Ryan Moats
is stuck behind Brian Westbrook and has had issues picking up
the offense and pass blocking, he demonstrated very strong running
skills when he filled in for the Eagles’ starter. Maurice
Drew and Addai are viewed as more powerful backs in style. Norwood
has flashed great, big play ability and might have a shot at beating
out Warrick Dunn in 2007.
Mike Bell, Moats, and Wolfe weren’t fast runners of the
40-yard dash, but they posted good shuttle times. Two of the three
have demonstrated the ability to run productively against NFL
defenses. Wolfe was actually drafted on the first day, despite
his size and speed limitations. Many scouts viewed Bradshaw as
a 1st day prospect strictly on his running, receiving, and blocking
skills. The big issue is that Bradshaw came out a year early with
notable off-field problems.
He was kicked off the University of Virginia football team for
underage possession of alcohol and obstruction of justice. When
you really think about what this charge means, ask yourself whether
Georgia Tech would have been forced to do something similar if
the police caught choirboy Calvin Johnson with the marijuana he
tried at some point during is college career. It’s sad how
we tacitly accept the fact that Johnson tried pot and admire him
for being honest because he never got busted and claims he never
did it again, but look down upon someone busted for a mistake
that 40%-60% of underage college students make every year.
The next issue occurred at Marshall. Bradshaw walked into an
unlocked dormitory room and stole a student’s video game
unit. This act definitely underscores a common, widespread arrogance
among many student athletes who believe they are above the law.
But if the rookie has truly cleaned up his act, both infractions
will be chalked up to immaturity common among many other successful
graduates who now live upstanding lives despite the fact they
didn’t get caught doing the same things, if not worse. Of
course, Roger Goodell is making a political statement during his
first season as commissioner and teams are reacting with more
caution in light of Pac Man Jones, Chris Henry, and Tank Johnson’s
So as with any long shot, there are risks. But Bradshaw has already
opened eyes at mini camp and the Giants don’t have a back
with this kind of skill set. Brandon Jacobs has long speed and
both he and Reuben Droughns can punish defenders, but neither
have the elusiveness and quick-hitting skill New York once had
from the retired Tiki Barber. Bradshaw could very well develop
into a feature back if everything falls into place. From his draft
position the odds aren’t good, but he’s a name worth
Just as a quick mention, another long shot is Chicago’s
free agent pick up, David Ball.
The New Hampshire WR is a high jumper with just average speed,
but incredibly good hands. At the East-West Shrine Game, Ball
was nicknamed “Uncle Ben” for his skills as a receiver—to
explain the clever moniker it’s an alias for the more blatant
Jerry Rice has actually said that he believes Ball will make
it in the NFL after watching the college star break the all-time
greats division I-AA mark for touchdown receptions. Ball is behind
several receivers, including Biletnikoff award winner, Mike
Hass (a Gut Check favorite in a similar vein) for a spot on
the depth chart or practice squad. But a closer inspection of
the receiver corps in Chicago explains why Ball chose the Bears:
Mushin Muhammad is in the twilight of his career and Bernard Berrian
is the only proven receiver on this roster. Mark Bradley has promise,
but his health has been an issue. The rest of the depth chart
is wide open.
If you have room to take a shot on a player very late in a draft
or just want to keep tabs on some potential waiver wire prospects,
Ahmad Bradshaw and David Ball true are football players that just
need the opportunity to prove that game smarts and 1-2 special
physical skills is just as good, if not better than, elite physical
ability and a raw game.