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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 147
Putting It in Perspective Part I

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!

With the season drawing to an end, I thought it would be good to take a more statistically based look at 2008 performances by position. I’m hoping this process will reveal insights you can take into the 2009 season. This week we’ll look at QBs and RBs, next week WRs and TEs. I’m not using a full season’s worth of stats for the rankings, so the results could experience a moderate change with three weeks left.


The methodology is simple: I took the stats for 2008 through week 14 and then listed each of these player’s rank from 2007 and the projected rankings Mike Krueger and I gave them in late August-early September. I assigned points for each of our rankings. For the Quarterbacks we received 4 points if our projections were within 3 spots of the current performance; 3 points if within 6 spots; 2 points if within 9 spots; and 1 point if within 12 spots. No points were rewarded if the projection did not come within 12 spots. The highest possible score was a sum of 48 points.

2008 Name 2007 Krueger Waldman MW Pts MK Pts
1 Drew Brees 3 4 3 4 4
2 Kurt Warner 10 22 16 0 0
3 Jay Cutler 12 6 14 1 4
4 Aaron Rodgers 11 22 0 2
5 Philip Rivers 15 16 19 0 1
6 Peyton Manning 4 2 4 4 4
7 Donovan McNabb 14 12 10 4 3
9 Brett Favre 6 18 8 4 1
10 Tony Romo 2 3 2 2 2
11 Eli Manning 13 19 9 4 1
12 David Garrard 16 8 11 4 3
Total Points 27 25
Pct. 56% 52%
What jumps out at me immediately is that 50% of the QBs ranked in the top 12 in 2007 are not in the top 12 in 2008. Mike did a nice job of touting Cutler and Rodgers. My most accurate picks were Farve and Eli Manning. Neither of us had confidence in Philip Rivers. Kurt Warner didn’t win the starting job until late in the preseason and our rankings reflect this uncertainty. Still, ranking Warner 16th and 22nd indicates we felt he was a player worth drafting.

Three of the quarterbacks in the top 12 are considered “older” players (Farve, McNabb, and Warner). Eleven of the twelve quarterbacks weren’t opening day starters as rookies. Only Peyton Manning got the nod. By the way, Matt Ryan was ranked 13th and he was an opening day starter. Brees and Favre are on their second teams and their replacements Rivers and Rodgers are picking up the slack. Warner is on his third team and his replacement, Eli Manning also made the list. So half the list is made up of incumbents who got pushed out by new blood. McNabb, the Mannings, Rivers, and Cutler were first-round picks. Favre, Brees, and Rodgers were second-round picks. Romo and Warner weren’t drafted.

Warner, Rivers, and the Mannings will never be considered highly mobile. They are strictly pocket passers. Brees, Favre, Cutler, and Romo are all excellent and moving around in the pocket until they find the open man. McNabb and Garrard are really the only threats to gain yardage past the line of scrimmage, but they like to throw first even when breaking the pocket.

Favre, Eli Manning, Garrard, and McNabb lack highly productive weapons at wide receiver. The Jets have been good, but they haven’t been on the level of receivers from the rest of the teams represented here. Garrard, McNabb, Favre, Romo, and Eli Manning had a top-12 runner and the only Brees, Cutler, and Warner didn’t have a top-24 back – so 75% of the quarterbacks had a quality running game to bring balance to the offense. If you’re looking for a safe bet at quarterback, it’s generally a good idea to make sure they have a strong ground game to complement the offense. Just look at the fact that Garrard, McNabb, Favre, and Eli Manning didn’t have an elite fantasy receiver but still managed to have good numbers. This may be the one of two solid things you can go by. The other is that all of these quarterbacks have a strong pocket presence and can buy opportunities to find secondary receivers – they all show maturity.

Running Backs

As with the quarterbacks I took the stats for 2008 through week 14 and then listed each of these player’s rank from 2007 and the projected rankings Mike Krueger and I gave them in late August-early September. I assigned points for each of our rankings. For the runners we received 4 points if our projections were within 6 spots of the current performance; 3 points if within 12 spots; 2 points if within 18 spots; and 1 point if within 24 spots. No points were rewarded if the projection did not come within 24 spots. The highest possible score was a sum of 96 points.

 Running Backs
2008 Name 2007 Krueger Waldman MW Pts MK Pts
1 DeAngelo Williams 31 30 19 1 0
2 Thomas Jones 22 20 18 2 1
3 Michael Turner 22 12 3 1
4 Matt Forte 29 32 0 0
5 Adrian Peterson 3 2 1 4 4
6 Brian Westbrook 2 4 3 4 4
7 Chris Johnson 43 38 0 0
8 Clinton Portis 5 7 7 4 4
9 Steve Slaton 34 0 0
10 Frank Gore 9 13 5 4 4
11 Maurice Jones-Drew 13 9 13 4 4
12 Marion Barber 7 5 6 4 3
13 Brandon Jacobs 20 17 20 3 4
14 LaDainian Tomlinson 1 1 2 3 2
15 Marshawn Lynch 12 8 8 3 3
16 Ronnie Brown 27 35 37 1 1
17 LenDale White 14 24 24 3 3
18 Ryan Grant 17 10 15 4 3
19 Steven Jackson 15 3 14 4 2
20 Kevin Smith 14 20 4 4
21 Le’Ron McClain 0 0
22 Jamal Lewis 6 18 9 4 2
23 Pierre Thomas 43 0 1
24 Jonathan Stewart 37 26 4 2
Top 12 30 25
Pct 63% 52%
Top 24 63 52
Pct 66% 54%

I just love projecting the running back position. It’s the easiest one to look like a complete fool. I’m shocked Mike and I actually were better than 50% in this scoring evaluation for the top twelve. Considering only five of the runners from 2007’s top twelve even maintained a spot this high in 2008 and three of the top tier starters are rookies, I’d say batting 50% or higher is pretty good.

I talk about this next point every year: rookie runners have the greatest likelihood of making an instant impact. This year, five of them are capable starters with three in the top-nine. The lesson learned here is to make sure you pay attention to the rookie RB class every year. Even if no immediate starters emerge from the draft, there are a ton of capable backs ready to step in.

Speaking of drafts – look at the backs on this list who were either drafted on day two or not at all: Michael Turner, Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Grant, Le’Ron McClain, and Pierre Thomas. That’s 25% of the starting fantasy runners. The lesson here is not to sell any runners short. Just because you haven’t heard of them and they weren’t drafted means you write them off.

Another point to add here is that all of these backs I mentioned weren’t immediate impact players. Neither were DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, or LenDale White. Let the loudmouths in your league trash players while you hold out hope.

What about the prototypical dimensions we hear from draft analysts (at least 5-10 and 220 lbs)? Turner, Forte, Peterson, Brown, Barber, Jacobs, White, Grant, Jackson, Lewis and Stewart all meet those requirements. That’s less than half of the list. Seven the eleven listed actually ran decent 40 times. And we know how important 40 times are to those penny pinching, NFL personnel guys. I guess those four backs who didn’t just aren’t very good…

But my favorite thing to see is how many of these backs were labeled “scat backs”. You know in some circles, that term is pretty derogatory. I certainly wouldn’t want the word “scat” to describe how I play. Funny thing. Seven of the top 12 backs on this list have dimensions that draft analysts cited as reasons why they couldn’t carry the load. Take note those of you announcing the dominance of RBBC, only three of the top 12 backs actually qualified as backs in an RBBC (Williams, Johnson, and Jones-Drew); and only eight of the top 24.

How many backs have hit that magic 370-f/carry, number in previous seasons? Two – Steven Jackson (19th) and LT (14th) – be warned for next year, especially if Peterson, Turner, and/or Portis reach that plateau. The position is also a young man’s game. Only Lewis, Tomlinson, Westbrook, Portis, and Jones have more than 4-5 seasons under the belts.

I think the big lesson here is that this is definitely a position where you can take a chance with projections. If you want to see certain failure, just follow conventional wisdom.

Cutler vs. Elway

I mentioned in my 20/20 Hindsight column this week that I would provide an argument in favor of Jay Cutler’s claim that he throws harder than John Elway. My little brother Marcus, a recent graduate of mathematics and atmospheric sciences at the University of Colorado, is currently serving a two-year contract for Teach for America in the Atlanta school system before he goes to graduate school and studies more Will Hunting-like mathematics. Marcus told me he thought Cutler was right, so I asked him to provide us some evidence. Here’s his response:

Well essentially it boils down to who can throw the ball the furthest.

Ignoring air resistance, assuming that the ball has an initial trajectory angle of 45 degrees (for maximum distance), and assuming a symmetric flight path (i.e. it lands at the same height as it started [which we know is wrong because it leaves Cutlers body at about 6 feet]) then the equation for the speed simplifies to:

|v| = sqrt( x_f * g )

Where |v| is the initial speed leaving the arm
x_f is the distance the ball traveled horizontally
g is the gravitational acceleration constant.

I had a friend tell me that Cutler threw the ball 81 yards during training camp, and Elway threw it something like 76 during the QB competition. So just based off that you know that Cutler has a stronger arm.

Of course this analysis wouldn't stand up in court, but hey physics is fun.

So there’s the conversation starter. Any of you math-physics nuts want to add to the point or help us arrive at a more plausible method of calculation, be my guest.

Next week, more season grades for Mike and me at WR and TE.

Good luck with your teams this weekend. So far, I’m still alive in three of the six leagues I made the playoffs – two expert auction leagues and one 40-man roster, dynasty/IDP league.