The Weekly Gut Check Vol. 181
Updated 12/2 by Matt Waldman, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.
From November to April, my passion for football is channeled to film study. For those of you who nitpick my choice of words because I don't have coach's tape, I think my track record with my trusty TiVO and blank DVDs is just fine thank you very much.
If you don't know what I'm referring to then you haven't seen the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP). Here are links that will tell you all you need to know:
This month, I have been sharing some of the things I look for when studying each of the offensive skill positions for the RSP and providing film study excerpts of some potential 2010 NFL Draft prospects at each position. This week I conclude the series with the position of tight end.
Tight Ends are a little easier to evaluate than wide receivers because they tend to run a lesser variety of routes and run blocking has a more elevated importance. Like receivers there are tight ends with specialized skills that will fit well into different systems. However, like the situation with running backs, there are more tight ends with NFL talent with fewer positions available for fantasy impact than what we see at receiver. As fantasy owners we're looking for tight ends with the following skills (in addition to routes and hands as described last week for receivers):
Tight ends need to get on top of their opposing defenders early, and this requires speed not only against safeties, but also from a three-point stance coming off the line against a linebacker. Ideally, a tight end that can threaten the seam 30-40 yards down field is what the NFL would love to see. However, a player that can consistently get open at half that distance is good enough because they will most frequently be used on drag routes, seam routes, and flat routes that require quick bursts and straight-line movement. Jason Witten is an example of a player who has this athleticism but also combines it with good fakes to set up his routes to get even better separation.
As I mentioned last week with receivers, the ball is consistently thrown with greater velocity into tighter spaces, against more aggressive and physical defenders at the pro level.
A prospect lacking the ability to catch the ball away from his body cannot be thrown open, which is what QBs like Manning, Brady, Brees, Rogers, and Rivers do regularly. He also can't come up with receptions that are thrown low, thrown outside the boundary, or thrown into the traffic of an oncoming hit. In college, these situations happen infrequently. In the pros, it's infrequent for a receiver not to face these situations.
A receiver can learn this skill, but far more enticing prospects that primarily body catch the football fail than succeed. Visanthe Shiancoe is the only tight end I have seen in recent years that actually body catches the football and is hanging on to it with any consistency.
If you combine a player's comfort with physical contact with his ability to block and get off the line of scrimmage I would term it "in-line play". A player like Marcedes Lewis has had limited success because he lacks this quality in all three facets despite the fact that he was seen as a player with strong receiving skills. In contrast, several of the "move TEs" like Chris Cooley, Owen Daniels, and Tony Gonzalez evolved into strong all-around players because they learned to become at least adequate along the line of scrimmage when needed.
Let's view these qualities in an evaluation of Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham, a 6-6, 258 lb, prospect who is generally considered the top prospect at his position in 2010. Here is a profile of his performance against Oklahoma State in 2008:
vs. Oklahoma State
Gresham's first target was a short hitch on the opening offensive play of the game. He was split just off the line of scrimmage, but not in a three-point stance. He chipped the edge rusher and the released from the backfield. The edge rusher got rid of Gresham as fast as the TE tried to get away. He did execute a good swim move against the DE from a three-point stance to get an inside release to the middle of the field and then turn around in the soft spot of the zone with 6:40 in the 1st QTR.
Gresham's route from the spread offense as an inside receiver in an empty backfield set was not very good. It looked more like he was a basketball player running to an area and turning around to wait for the pass. It was like a post up move.
He did go vertical once the DB got in front of him, but the pass was already thrown elsewhere by that time. I think his routes need work. He ran what appeared to be a hitch, but it continues to appear the he's running down a court and posting up at the side of the key in a basketball game. He needs to learn to drive the defender back, sink his hips, and turn quicker out of his break.
Although he made a good catch on a nine-yard out with 0:49 in the half, turning quickly out of his break, his technique on the route still wasn't very sound and actually prevented him from getting more separation on the play, which he'll need at the NFL level. Gresham's slant with 0:33 in the game was not well covered. He was open across the middle in the zone, and the route was sloppy. He did put an excellent double move that ended with a slant across the middle for a score with 0:16 in the half. He froze his defender with the fake hitch - turning his body slightly to the outside, before breaking up field on the slant.
Gresham caught the quick hitch with his hands at eye level and turned to the inside of the defender over top for an extra yard. He made a diving attempt for a pass with 12:49 in the half, but couldn't keep his hands on the ball. The throw was low and away from him, because he was in tight coverage with a defender over his back. He trapped the ball against the ground while trying to extend for it.
He caught a swing pass with 12:19 in the half with his hands while turning his upper body back to the QB, and gained nine yards on the play. He caught a quick turnaround with 8:26 in the half on a 2nd and 12 and turned up field to get the 10 yards on the play. He later made an excellent nine-yard reception with one hand to tip it and then catch it with both hands in tight coverage with 0:49 in the half. It took great concentration to make the catch and stay inbounds.
Two plays later, Gresham was thrown to on a hitch but was hit in the back as he reached over his head to collect the pass thrown high. The ball went straight in the air and he turned to the sideline and came down with the rebound before stepping out of bounds with 0:36 in the game. Good awareness and concentration on the play. On the next play, he caught a slant and ran all the way to the goal line with 0:33 left in the game. Good job catching the ball with his hands. On the double move of a hitch and slant, Gresham caught the ball with his hands in the end zone with 0:13 in the half.
Gresham's 73-yard score in this game was a happy accident. The QB was trying to throw a crossing pattern to his WR coming from the left side. The ball was deflected and flew towards Gresham, who was 10 yards downfield running a seam route. He turned back to catch the ball and outran the pursuit 49 yards downfield.
With 10:19 in the game he caught a short drag route to the left flat for a 2-yard gain. Excellent leaping catch on the seam route with 8:40 left. He had to reach back for the ball while running away from the shallow zone coverage. Good job catching it in stride for a 25-yard gain. He's a straight-line runner, but agile in the sense of being able to jump and change direction in tight spaces. He's not amazingly quick or capable of sharp cuts. Gresham demonstrated good agility on a swing pass where he had to hurdle two fallen players in front of him at the LOS before running down the left sideline for a nine-yard gain.
He didn't find anyone to block on a 1st and 10 run play with 12:58 in the first quarter. He broke into the second level, but could not get to an LB fast enough to engage in a block. He did an OK job shielding the LB to the sideline on Murray's first touchdown run with 12:50 in the 1st QTR. He wasn't quick enough to get his hands on the LB and keep them there, but he did a decent enough job to get in his way.
What was impressive is that Gresham first put a good hit on the DE and then drifted to the second level to make a second block. The RB benefited twice from his effort. He's frequently split from behind the line standing up, but still used as a blocker. This leads me to think he has difficult blocking out of the three-point stance. He did get some push on an LB at the second level on a block with 3:03 in the first quarter. Then again, with 13:13 in the half, he lines up in a three-point stance blocks down on the end on a run to his side and then comes off the block to take on DB at the second level to help the RB gain 13 yards - excellent job. He almost whiffed on a block to seal the edge for his back on a 2nd and 1 run with 1:47 in the half, but he was able to extend his arms and follow up with another hit to turn the player away from the action long enough for the RB to pass. Good effort to block the safety downfield on a pass up the middle to the RB with 3:20 in the third quarter.
Gresham is reasonably agile as a tall man with excellent hand-eye coordination. He's a smooth runner after the catch with decent long speed. He won't accelerate past the secondary, but if he's ahead of them they will have a tough time catching him. He catches the ball with his hands very well. He is a decent in-line blocker in the run game and makes the effort to make multiple blocks on one play. He is also capable of turning and shielding his man as a blocker.
Gresham has a lanky frame for his size and gets pushed around at the point of attack against defensive linemen. He doesn't have a lot of power as a runner or great agility - a straight-line runner. He's a fluid athlete but he needs work on his routes and release from the line of scrimmage. He tends to run routes like a basketball player playing a half-court game. He needs more precision to gain better separation against coverage. His season-ending knee injury was a cartilage tear. This isn't as serious as ligament damage in the short term, but he could increase the TE's chances to experience more bone-on-bone issues that could limit his effectiveness in the long term.
I think Gresham has a good chance to be a solid player, but I wouldn't expect him to make an instant impact unless he's incorporated into an offense that maximizes his strengths as a post-up receiver in the red zone. He's not the athlete that Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, but he's good enough to make an NFL team and fantasy owners happy once he improves his in-line skills.
Week 12 Progress
Here's a quick update:
- Footballguys IDP Staff League: 12-0, won the division, and clinched a first-round bye - as has Jene Bramel in the other division.
- AAFFL: I dropped my fourth straight to fall to 6-6. I ran into a match up with Drew Brees and I was stuck with Randy Moss against a Saints defense that played the Pats extremely well.
- FESL Bravo: A 152-point week puts me at 7-5 and with an inside track for a wild card berth. I don't have a lot of depth at receiver, but Percy Harvin and Greg Jennings seem to be stepping up. This team is improving at the right time.
- HAFAX-II: I'm officially eliminated after this weekend. However, I'm enthused about the young players I have under contract. I just need to acquire some RBs to make the step back into contention in 2010.
- HyperActive Dynasty League: Another win this weekend puts me at 8-4, and as the top seed in the Hyper division, earning me a bye. I'm not sure how I did it with my combo of Trent Edwards, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and now Bruce Gradkowski at QB. I'm hoping the smoke and mirrors hold up for a few more weeks...
- Ironman 3 IDP Dynasty League: Two in a row puts me at 7-5 and still in the hunt for a wild card berth. If Brian Westbrook can make it back, I could make some noise. Unfortunately, my linebacker play has really been hurting me. Derrick Johnson's demise has been a big reason.
- WCOFF $300 Satellite League: I officially won the top seed and I picked the right match up to face the second-highest scoring team in the "championship" round for our league. Then it's off to the championship bracket to go for a free ride to the 2010 WCOFF event in Vegas. Although that is the goal, I'm happy with my showing thus far. Plus, there is a "One and Done" league where you can only use players once per week over the next five weeks. I picked well enough to rank fourth in my division.
- SOFA Auction League: Two wins in a row despite my RBs crapping out at the wrong time. I think I still have a mathematical chance to qualify for a playoff spot with a win this week, but it's going to take me picking the right receivers among Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham, Steve Breaston, and Laveranues Coles to match with Greg Jennings and maybe Terrell Owens.
- Rapid Draft: I'm not sure how this league works after week 11, but last week I actually found some running backs for the first time this year (Felix Jones healthy and productive and adding Justin Forsett two weeks ago). It was a good showing overall at 7-4.
- Footballguys Subscriber Contest: I guess you could say technically I came in second among the staffers, but all that means is I was the highest scoring FBG staff writer last week not to make the cut. Congratulations to Andy Hicks for winning the staff version of the contest - great job.