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. 135
Underrated Stats

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 is easy to get into the habit if bottom-line thinking when considering lineup decisions, waiver wire picks, and potential trades. I have often recommended waiting three to four weeks before making any significant transactions, but as fantasy leagues have grown more competitive I have learned that sometimes you have to act fast and make bold moves to enhance your team. If you took my preseason advice and picked only one kicker, tight end, and defense and went running back and receiver-heavy on draft day, you stocked your squad with enough value to make deals for desirable players.

I followed my own advice and had enough quality backs that I could afford the luxury of giving up a little bit more for players I desire. Within the past week I made significant transactions that I believe will help my teams:

  • Trading DeAngelo Williams for Eddie Royal prior to week two: If you think of Williams as the likely starter for the season and Royal as a talented rookie who came off his best game as a stopgap option until Brandon Marshall returned, then I overpaid. But when I have Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, Jamal Lewis, and Andre Hall, I can afford to give up a little more for needed receiver in an offense I believe will live and die by the pass. As it turned out, Jonathan Stewart looked excellent against a strong run defense in week two and likely gained an early advantage in the carries derby with Williams. Every strong pass offense in the NFL has at least two, if not three, fantasy worthy receivers. If Royal becomes at worst, a quality third option for Cutler on the Broncos QB’s journey towards a 4,000-yard season, I’ll have a player I will start more often than a time-sharing RB.

  • Trading Chris Perry and Reggie Williams for Chris Cooley and (NYG) Steve Smith: Once again, it appears I overpaid, but it’s difficult to disagree with my logic when you consider my backs are Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Jonathan Stewart, Ricky Williams, LaMont Jordan, and Pierre Thomas and I only start two of them. Reggie Williams is clearly more valuable on paper than Steve Smith, but I didn’t plan on starting Williams and there are comparable players on the waiver wire. With a team ranked 3rd overall in points scored, my tight ends are my greatest weakness with only Robert Royal (waivers) and Dustin Keller (draft) to choose from. After this deal, the only position I need to consider upgrading is quarterback if (CAR) Steve Smith doesn’t help my fantasy QB Jake Delhomme.

  • Acquiring the Tennessee Titans and John Kasay via the waiver wire on multiple teams: When you draft only one kicker, one tight end, and one defense while stocking up on receivers and runners, chances are you acquired enough talent not to be desperate for a free agent at the position. It also means that you are likely to be one of the bottom half of teams on your leagues waiver order and not likely to get the premium free agent talent at quarterback, runner, or receiver. So pursuing defense and special teams players in the first round of the waiver order is your best option and plays to the strengths and weaknesses of your squad. Plus, if you really want a sought after free agent, you can always make a trade for him (as I did for Eddie Royal).

If your strategy has left you searching for skill position players then maybe it’s best to look beyond the bottom-line stat of fantasy points. In leagues where owners are conservative in nature, sometimes our only option is to take what is available, but if you do have more choices, there are several lesser-regarded stats that can help you gain a decent picture of which players are the best to pursue.

Sacks Taken

Having a good quarterback doesn’t mean much if he’s taking more hits than a piñata at a birthday party. Although it would be optimal to view how many times a quarterback has been hit, the next best stat is sacks taken. But it is not just the punishment; it’s also how a sack can kill a drive and cut a quarterback’s number of opportunities in a ballgame.

 Most Sacked QBs After Two Games
Player Team Sack
J.T. O’Sullivan SF 12
Marc Bulger STL 10
David Garrard JAC 9
Jon Kitna DET 8
Matt Hasselbeck SEA 6
Chad Pennington MIA 6
Matt Cassel NE 5
Brett Favre NYJ 5
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 5
Matt Ryan ATL 5
Matt Schaub HOU 5
Kurt Warner ARI 5
J.T. O’Sullivan was excellent last week, but taking twelve sacks in two games is a worrisome stat. The Niners quarterback is reasonably mobile in the pocket, but Martz’s deep-drop system leaves him even more exposed. This also justifies Vernon Davis skeptics, because San Francisco clearly needs him to stay at the line of scrimmage and pass protect more often than desired for fantasy owners. Davis may have some big games, but they will be couched between some very dry weeks.

There’s little need to discuss Marc Bulger, because he was the precursor to this problem O’Sullivan faces for the first time as a starter.

David Garrard may be mobile, but his offensive line is a shambles. At the same time, he faced two very good pass rushing defenses in Tennessee and Buffalo. The Colts and a healthy Dwight Freeney aren’t bad, either. I expect Garrard to be a QB you can acquire at a low price and have some hope that his numbers will improve with the return of Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams, and the improvement of Matt Jones. But I’m not buying that logic. None of these receivers have shown the kind of route running savvy during their careers that help Garrard get rid of the ball quickly. Expect more coverage pressure and sacks in Garrard’s future.

Jon Kitna’s problem isn’t his receivers. It’s a predictable offense with an ineffective running game on first and second down, which leads to more third and long situations than what is desirable. Kitna also has a bit of that Drew Bledsoe syndrome of standing in the pocket until the last moment. If the offensive line improves it’s run blocking, the Lions are like the poor man’s version of the Arizona Cardinals when they have the ball.

Matt Hasselbeck’s issue is quite the opposite. He’s good in the pocket, but when your best receiver might be street free agent Koren Robinson on his second tour of duty in Seattle, the issue is coverage sacks due to a lack of rapport with his receivers and his corps inexperience with the offense. If Robinson makes the most of his opportunity and Bobby Engram is healthy enough to produce upon his return, Hasselbeck could have vastly improved production down the stretch. The key will be Robinson who is a big play threat when at his best. If he produces, the offense will open up and allow Engram to be the complement he is along with rookie tight end John Carlson and Julius Jones out of the backfield. If you see some highly worthy plays from Robinson, Hasselbeck could be a great bargain. It is not likely, but you still need to know the telltale sign.

Chad Pennington and Brett Favre all have the same problem as Hasselbeck, but in reverse. They are the new guys under center and will be more hesitant due to their inexperience with their respective systems. I expect both to get much better as the season progresses, especially Favre. Pennington needs his receivers and running game to play better so his improvement won’t show up as clearly on the box score.

Matt Ryan and Matt Cassel are first-year starters. Cassel’s low sack rate has something to do with a few years of preparation on a great team. The fact Matt Ryan only has five sacks is a credit to his skill. Both will have their ups and downs, but will be worth at least a bye week play.

Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t had many attempts so his sack rate his higher than most on this list. If his shoulder problem lingers for more than a few weeks, this could become worrisome for fantasy owners.

 Least Sacks Taken
Player Team Sack
Jason Campbell WAS 3
Kyle Orton CHI 3
Carson Palmer CIN 3
JaMarcus Russell OAK 3
Tyler Thigpen KC 3
Jeff Garcia TB 2
Brian Griese TB 2
Philip Rivers SD 2
Jay Cutler DEN 1
Aaron Rodgers GB 1
Joe Flacco BAL 0
Tony Romo DAL 0
Campbell and Palmer have faced at least two good pass rushing units there is some cause for hope with the up and coming Campbell. Palmer has been in most fantasy owner’s doghouse, but this unit should make enough adjustments to come around. These are two buy low candidates. People are literally dropping Palmer in some leagues. While I never expect the Bengals defense to come around, I do believe we’ll see some life from the offense by mid-season.

Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese should be treated like one player for two games when examining this stat. The total is still pretty good. Still, these two quarterbacks are good-but-not-great options, because they are the type of players that need a great receiver to elevate their game. Phillip Rivers on the other hand has enough weapons around him to elevate his game when called upon to do so. I think he could become a top eight quarterback out of necessity this season and could be had a reasonable price. Cutler, Rodgers, and Romo look like the class the NFL at their position. You’ll have to pay a premium to get them.

 First Down Percentage
Player Team Att 1st%
Brian Westbrook PHI 37 35.1
Jonathan Stewart CAR 24 33.3
Michael Turner ATL 36 33.3
Marion Barber DAL 34 32.4
Jerious Norwood ATL 20 30.0
Chris Johnson TEN 34 29.4
Brandon Jacobs NYG 36 27.8
Justin Fargas OAK 27 25.9
I believe this stat reflects the skill level, offensive scheme, and play-calling situation where these players are used. I was looking for players with a first down percentage of 25% on a minimum of 20 carries after two games.

Brian Westbrook is no surprise; he’s the Eagles most versatile weapon. But Jonathan Stewart? He has faced two of the more difficult run defenses in the NFL and got first downs a third of the time. Stewart, Michael Turner, and Marion Barber are equally versatile and capable of pummeling a defense into submission. If you have Stewart on your squad, it might not be a bad risk to count on him as your second starter and trade away another back to upgrade your team. The fact that Stewart will see goal line carries and at least split time with DeAngelo Williams should make him a decent fantasy start more weeks than not.

Jerious Norwood is a surprise, but his carry rate might be inflated due to Michael Turner’s ankle injury in the second game that forced him to the sideline. Still, Norwood is a threat for a big play whenever he touches the football. Speaking of which, Chris Johnson has those skills and is earning the opportunities. Although the initial box scores leave the impression Johnson’s value is his 1-2 big plays per game, the fact he’s getting first downs on nearly 30% of his carries belies that notion. He may also be a player worthy of taking the plunge and trusting as your #2 RB while trading away depth to shore up other parts of your roster.

Player Team Att Fumble
Chris Perry CIN 40 3
Frank Gore SF 33 2
Darren McFadden OAK 30 2
Ricky Williams MIA 21 2

Here’s one reason why I felt comfortable with trading away Chris Perry despite a moderately impressive effort against the Titans run defense. Actually, the first three players are good candidates to sell high at this time. I plan to hang onto Gore, but it is clear his offensive line hasn’t improved very much from last year. What balances things out are O’Sullivan and Bruce complementing the offense and keeping defenses more focused on the passing game. McFadden had a highly productive game versus the lowly Chiefs. He did nothing to show that he’s more than a straight-ahead runner with great acceleration, but it was enough in last week’s effort. The big issue is what I worried about with him this summer: when the regular season hit, would he forget what he learned in camp about ball protection? So far, the answer is yes. He had a big game, but ask me how I feel about my assessment of McFadden after he plays 12-16 games and gets at least 15 carries in each. I still believe this is a good time to sell him high. Jonathan Stewart is for real. McFadden will give you good weeks, but I don’t believe it will be consistently good production. Ricky Williams might be a buy low candidate if you believe he’s shaking off more rust and still getting into football shape. I don’t believe those are the reasons for his fumbles. It looks like he’s in a more permanent timeshare with Ronnie Brown for the rest of the season.

Targets and Target Efficiency

I believe these two stats will tell you a lot about your receiver’s present role in his offense. I’m not sure how good of a predictor it will be for the next 14 games, but that’s for you to judge. My take is that a receiver with a high target total is either on a pass-happy offense or is the only healthy, productive option for his quarterback. If multiple receivers on the same team have a high target total you know the offense is spreading the ball around. If the target efficiency is high for these multiple receivers from the same offense, then you also know the offense is hitting on all cylinders.

A high efficiency number with a low target total can also indicate an offense is operating well. Terrell Owens is ranked 37th among receivers in targets, but 18th overall in efficiency. Although he is the only wide receiver on the Dallas offense ranked in the top 50, Jason Witten’s performance, coupled with Marion Barber’s ability to get first downs are reasons (along with Tony Romo) Dallas seems to be scoring at will. How efficient is Owens? Check out the 22 yards per reception average that he’s converting on 2/3 of his targets and you see it is only taking a pass per quarter for him to be a top producer.

Roy Williams is angry about his lack of involvement in the offense, but I don’t think he’s as jealous of Calvin Johnson as he is Shaun McDonald. Williams has to understand that Johnson is only going to help him garner better matchups, but those balls Williams expects to see as a result are often going to McDonald, who is seeing 16 targets to Wiliams’ 12. Both are converting at the same rate (50%) but Williams averages more than twice the amount of yards per catch than McDonald. There are two plausible explanations here: 1) The down and distance situation of the plays going to McDonald where his short area quickness is a greater asset than Williams and 2) What the defense is doing on the play. Kitna has been sacked a ton and McDonald might be the best check down option under pressure. Maybe Williams’ frustration should be directed towards his offensive line and run game that force the Lions into situational football.

 WR Targets & Efficiency
Player Tm Games Targets Rec Eff Yds Yds/Rec
8. Brandon Marshall DEN 1 20 18 90% 166 9.2
26. Donald Driver GB 2 13 11 85% 90 8.2
32. Ike Hilliard TB 2 12 10 83% 86 8.6
34. Andre Johnson HOU 1 12 10 83% 112 11.2
14. Anquan Boldin ARI 2 17 14 82% 222 15.9
48. Randy Moss NE 2 10 8 80% 138 17.3
9. Plaxico Burress NYG 2 19 15 79% 214 14.3
23. Antwaan Randle El WAS 2 14 11 79% 126 11.5
25. Hines Ward PIT 2 14 11 79% 135 12.3
13. Eddie Royal DEN 2 18 14 78% 183 13.1
33. Vincent Jackson SD 2 12 9 75% 120 13.3
35. Bryant Johnson SF 2 12 9 75% 126 14
21. Greg Jennings GB 2 15 11 73% 258 23.5
6. Anthony Gonzalez IND 2 20 14 70% 185 13.2
28. Larry Fitzgerald ARI 2 13 9 69% 184 20.4
12. DeSean Jackson PHI 2 18 12 67% 216 18
36. Greg Lewis PHI 2 12 8 67% 140 17.5
37. Terrell Owens DAL 2 12 8 67% 176 22
42. Santonio Holmes PIT 2 11 7 64% 113 16.1
10. Santana Moss WAS 2 19 12 63% 201 16.8
1. Reggie Wayne IND 2 24 15 63% 179 11.9
5. Wes Welker NE 2 21 13 62% 123 9.5
27. Lee Evans BUF 2 13 8 62% 179 22.4
20. Marvin Harrison IND 2 15 9 60% 92 10.2
49. Roddy White ATL 2 10 6 60% 113 18.8
3. Calvin Johnson DET 2 22 13 59% 236 18.2
7. Matt Jones JAC 2 20 11 55% 130 11.8
29. Justin Gage TEN 2 13 7 54% 84 12
31. Brandon Lloyd CHI 2 13 7 54% 92 13.1
4. Muhsin Muhammad CAR 2 21 11 52% 115 10.5
2. Dwayne Bowe KC 2 22 11 50% 139 12.6
18. Shaun McDonald DET 2 16 8 50% 56 7
22. Greg Camarillo MIA 2 14 7 50% 86 12.3
38. David Patten NO 2 12 6 50% 94 15.7
39. Roy Williams DET 2 12 6 50% 95 15.8
46. Rashied Davis CHI 2 10 5 50% 21 4.2
47. Chad Johnson CIN 2 10 5 50% 59 11.8
15. Joey Galloway TB 2 17 8 47% 74 9.3
16. Amani Toomer NYG 2 17 8 47% 79 9.9

Brandon Marshall took all of one game to not only make up for the game he missed in targets and receptions, but his efficiency rating is off to an incredible start. Considering Eddie Royal isn’t too shabby with 18 targets and an impressive 78% efficiency, I have a rough time believing Denver won’t be one of the most pass-happy offenses in 2008. Cutler, Marshall, Royal, and Scheffler will all be strong fantasy starts this year. A further vote of confidence for Royal, Stokely, and Jackson (as depth) is Tuesday’s trade of Keary Colbert to the Seahawks.

Marvin Harrison is one of the bigger question marks among fantasy receivers since training camp. Will he or won’t he return to form? Harrison is ranked 20th among all receivers for targets and converting at a decent rate of 60%, but Anthony Gonzalez is out producing the venerable Harrison with only five fewer targets as a ‘bench player’. Not a great sign for Harrison.

Harrison’s big plays traditionally come from the play action off the Colts’ patented stretch play, which the Colts have been unable to execute with Manning’s ongoing recovery from knee surgery. I’d keep Harrison as a reserve player who should get better down the stretch, but if you can’t afford to wait that long, I’d search for other options.

Vincent Jackson is an option I would consider acquiring. He is likely a top-level reserve for a team that drafted him as depth and could unload him in a package deal in return for a quality player. Notice that Chris Chambers isn’t even on the list because as impressive as his 25 yards per reception average is, he’s not getting enough the targets to warrant consideration as a true, primary weapon. With Antonio Gates and Ladainian Tomlinson hurting, Jackson has a chance to increase his value and his 75% efficiency rate indicates that is what he’s doing.

Bryant Johnson appears to be J.T. O’Sullivan’s favorite target and much like Vincent Jackson, fantasy owners should be able to acquire him with little resistance in a package deal.

Potential Pass-Happy Offensive Units

We already mentioned receivers from Denver, Detroit, and Indianapolis. Arizona and Pittsburgh deserve mentioning and their receiving corps is talented and stable. Philadelphia is the classic, pass-happy offense but of the two receivers on this list, DeSean Jackson is the one with staying power. He is explosive with his 18 yards per catch with a 67% target efficiency rate. Reggie Brown’s return will only help complement Jackson’s involvement in the offense. Philly may have lost the Monday Night division battle, but they look like they still have a chance to win the war. Green Bay is throwing the ball around with as much confidence as ever, thanks to Aaron Rodgers and the hamstrung Ryan Grant.

A surprise unit could turn out to be the Washington Redskins. Both Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are prominently on this list and after all the leery comments about Jim Zorn, I think people will look back and feel differently about the team’s new head coach. For me it was something Trent Dilfer said about Jason Campbell during an analysis of the QB’s game-winning bomb to Santana Moss. The former Seahawk’s quarterback turned analyst referred to the way Campbell, read the safeties, turned his shoulder away from the pressure, stepped up in the pocket, and delivered the ball downfield as something exactly as Jim Zorn coaches. This reminded me of what reporters showed all off season with Zorn – the coach tutoring his quarterbacks. He’s the same coach who helped refine Matt Hasselbeck’s game.

But the credit also goes to Campbell for being a quick study. This may be one of the positives of him having so many new systems throughout his college and NFL career. It would have been easy for Campbell to perform poorly in college with all these changes, but instead he thrived. I think this must have helped him in the NFL. He’s adaptable. Not something you see that often from a young player. I actually just picked him back up on one of my rosters as my second QB.

New England remains efficient in the passing game, but I believe they are on a downward trend in terms of attempts per game. I expect to see heavier doses of the ground game of Maroney, Jordan, Faulk and Morris, YPC. In contrast, I do expect an upward trend for San Francisco, now that Reverend Ike took an extra week to get his sermons ready.

 TE Targets & Efficiency
Player Tm Games Targets Rec Eff Yds Yds/Rec
21. Bo Scaife TEN 2 7 7 100% 111 15.9
10. Anthony Fasano MIA 2 9 8 89% 84 10.5
11. Dante Rosario CAR 2 9 8 89% 102 12.8
13. Jeremy Shockey NO 2 9 8 89% 76 9.5
19. Chris Cooley WAS 2 7 6 86% 79 13.2
5. John Carlson SEA 2 12 10 83% 130 13
16. Zach Miller OAK 2 8 6 75% 58 9.7
17. Robert Royal BUF 2 8 6 75% 52 8.7
2. Jason Witten DAL 2 18 13 72% 206 15.8
3. Kellen Winslow CLE 2 17 12 71% 102 8.5
6. Antonio Gates SD 2 12 8 67% 122 15.3
9. David Martin MIA 2 11 7 64% 85 12.1
18. Tom Santi IND 1 8 5 63% 29 5.8
7. Randy McMichael STL 2 12 7 58% 101 14.4
8. Tony Scheffler DEN 2 12 7 58% 136 19.4
20. Reggie Kelly CIN 2 7 4 57% 29 7.3
1. Tony Gonzalez KC 2 20 11 55% 94 8.5
15. Desmond Clark CHI 2 8 4 50% 67 16.8
4. L.J. Smith PHI 2 13 6 46% 49 8.2
12. Visanthe Shiancoe MIN 2 9 4 44% 44 11
14. Alex Smith TB 2 9 4 44% 39 9.8

The player who leaps from this table is Seahawk’s rookie TE John Carlson. He’s ranked fifth in targets and sixth with his efficiency rate. Get him while you can. Robert Royal may have been up one week and down the next, but it had to do with lack of targets in week two. He’s converting a very high 75%. I wouldn’t quit on him too early in an offense that seems to be coming together under Trent Edwards. You may want to include Dante Rosario here, too. The middle of the field should be wide open for him now that Steve Smith returns to the fold.

The players you might be able to pry from owners if you act quickly include Chris Cooley and Jeremy Shockey. Cooley is 19th in targets, but is highly efficient with his opportunities. Expect more targets his way as the season progresses. The same can be said for Shockey who will be counted on more frequently.

Antonio Gates is really gutting out a tough injury and the stats who he’s still putting up decent numbers for a tight end, but he’s on track to be a mid-level starter as opposed to his normal elite status for the past few years. Be wary if you’re thinking about him as a buy low candidate in a trade negotiation.

Bo Scaife is an interesting candidate as a buy low player. The perception that Alge Crumpler would be the starter is still there, but the numbers suggest Scaife might turn into the best option. Last week wasn’t a good follow up to week one, but if he posts decent stats in week two, I’d take a chance on him.