The Weekly Gut Check Vol. 215
By Matt Waldman
November 17th, 2010

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.


The Grab Bag

Whether you're competing for a playoff spot or playing out the string, I've got something for you this week.

For those of you jockeying for a postseason bid, there is a desire to find at least one player you can stash on your roster that will have an impact late in the season when some studs get a breather in the final weeks of the season. Let's start a preliminary list of players that might be worth targeting for your playoff bid that we can continue to update as we get more information between now and week 13.

The reason this is a preliminary list is because the playoff picture is still wide open in most divisions. At this point, you won't see many players from the AFC South on this list because a lot of their divisional games in the next 4-6 weeks. With the two games separating all four teams, I don't want to project a division winner. The Jets, Patriots, Colts, Ravens and Steelers all sport at least 6-3 records so there's no AFC squad running away with the conference.

The best record in the NFC belongs to Atlanta and conceivably they could wrap up this division by week 13, but with Saints and Buccaneers just a game back this division looks a lot like the AFC South. The Eagles are beginning to hit their stride and the Giants have been strong, but we saw how Dallas has returned to life this Sunday and they could play spoiler. The AFC and NFC West have multiple teams still capable of fluctuating greatly. The NFC North looks like its headed for a two-team race, but Minnesota has the talent to go on a run.

This could be one of those seasons where we see fewer teams than normal to earn the luxury to bench starters. These are players that are likely attainable with some degree of ease that I think belong on this list. I'll rank them based on how I project their likely impact and continue to update this brief hit list through week 13. These aren't necessarily players to get right now, but they are the ones I'm monitoring before I pull the trigger.

Buy Low List for Playoff Run

  1. RB Knowshon Moreno
  2. RB Jason Snelling
  3. WR Mike Williams
  4. QB Josh Freeman
  5. QB Troy Smith
  6. QB Bruce Gradkowski
  7. RB Jerome Harrison
  8. RB Ricky Williams
  9. TE Delanie Walker
  10. WR Arrelious Benn
  11. TE Jimmy Graham
  12. WR Deon Butler

Knowshon Moreno: I might be overreacted to Moreno's first 100-yard game of his career, especially since it came in conjunction with the Broncos taking a big early lead against the Chiefs. But the second-year runner got Denver into the red zone with a 14-yard gain that set up his 17-yard scoring reception - the first touchdown of the game. He then gained 39 yards on 3 carries during the second drive and then another 20 yards on two carries in the early second quarter. Whether you think Moreno has potential to be a special back or he's at best another Sammy Winder, Denver clearly figured out how to run the football. If Moreno can follow up this contest with another nice effort in San Diego or versus St. Louis in the next two weeks, it could be a sign he's finally getting healthy enough to show some of the athleticism that has been missing from his game due to knee and hamstring injuries. With Arizona, Oakland and Houston as his playoff schedule Moreno could be a decent buy-low if you can have the luxury to make the deal now. I'd probably wait another week before acquiring Moreno just to make sure this game wasn't an anomaly.

Jason Snelling: Snelling already has the designated pass-receiving role from the backfield with 28 receptions, 181 yards and 2 TDs. We also learned earlier this year that Snelling can be a strong short-term answer as a starting runner. If the 7-2 Falcons wrap up the division, Snelling could see significant carries against Carolina, Seattle and New Orleans during the fantasy playoffs.

Mike Williams (SEA): Williams has been a stud against Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie, catching 22 passes for 232 yards and a score in his two games against the Cardinals cornerback. But he also torched the Chicago Bears for 123 yards on 10 catches prior to the first match up with Arizona. I think the slump during weeks 8-9 had more to do with a knee injury than what we might have initially thought. San Francisco, Atlanta and Tampa are decent options for Williams to perform well - the last two games being at home. He's the only Seahawk receiver you can count on getting a requisite amount of targets each week.

Josh Freeman: Freeman is a very safe value as an already-established, low-end QB1 with a schedule of Washington, Detroit and Seattle during the fantasy playoffs. I like that Arrelious Benn seems to be coming on because it could also open things up for Kellen Winslow. He has four multiple touchdown games thus far and this team is growing in confidence.

Troy Smith: After two games, Smith is completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 552 yards, 2 scores and no interceptions. Most impressive is Smith has led the 49ers to consecutive wins. Whether you fault the 49ers for jerking around Alex Smith's learning curve and attribute Troy Smith's development to a greater semblance of continuity with the Ravens, its very clear that the Heisman winner from Ohio State doesn't over think when he's on the field. Troy Smith's ability to let the game flow is a big reason why he's able to make big plays that are more rare for Alex Smith. The 49ers have clearly rallied around Troy Smith and with Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis has his opponents from weeks 14-16, I think he's a strong addition if you think you might need a quarterback in case your signal caller is a candidate for a second- half siesta.

Bruce Gradkowski: He might not be the starter when he comes back, but Jason Campbell's hot streak has come against Denver, Seattle and Kansas City. I think Pittsburgh is going to make Campbell look like the same player that opted the Raiders to give the job to Gradkowski. With all due respect to those that say Campbell has a better arm for Jacoby Ford, I'd rather take the quarterback that completes high percentage passes with reliable frequency than one that completes an occasionally low percentage throw - even if that characterization where true. Once Campbell gets canned by the Steelers, Oakland faces Jacksonville, Denver and Indianapolis, teams that will force Oakland to throw in order to keep pace.

Jerome Harrison: The Eagles' new acquisition isn't likely to significantly cut into LeSean McCoy's time even if he had a 100-yard performance against the Redskins on Monday night. But his big game, much of it coming in the first half, is a sign that Harrison is adjusting well to the offensive system and capable of contributing as a starter if needed. He's the perfect match of skills for the Eagles offense and by the rare chance Philadelphia wraps up the division by week 14 or 15, Harrison could earn extended opportunities so McCoy can get rest of the playoffs.

Ricky Williams: Buffalo and Detroit are week 15 and 16 opponents for a team that will be starting third-string QB Tyler Thigpen for the foreseeable future. I like Thigpen as a player to add to this list. In fact, he just makes the cut for this week. The reason is what I believe the Dolphins will do with him: use the play action game to roll Thigpen to the edge and give him and Brandon Marshall more opportunities to make plays on the move. The more this happens, the more frequently the opposing defensive ends will have to stay at home to account for the play action bootlegs and this will open more rushing lanes off guard and off tackle for Williams and Ronnie Brown. Since Williams is the back that is hitting the holes with greater effectiveness this year, he's the guy I'm thinking will make a decent option down the stretch.

Delanie Walker: I'm looking for a player that comes out of nowhere with a chance for big games. Walker has the athleticism of a fantasy TE1 and Troy Smith seems to have a real rapport with the reserve tight end that the 49ers have long wanted to incorporate into the offense even with Vernon Davis in the lineup. For the past two games, Walker has 9 receptions for 165 yards. San Francisco likes to split Walker wide of the formation and this can make him a fine mismatch, especially when Vernon Davis' presence forces the opposing defense to place a nickel back or linebacker on the athletic Walker. We'll see if this trend continues, but if I needed a tight end - Walker might be a swing for the fences I'd consider.

Arrelious Benn: The Illinois rookie isn't setting the world on fire with four receptions in three games, but two of them were touchdowns and a third for 53 yards came just a yard shy of the end zone. With a favorable schedule of passing defenses ahead, Benn could begin to see an increase in targets. I expect to see him off this list within the next couple of weeks as the divisional races get clearer and veterans come to the forefront, but he immediately came to mind due to his schedule.

Jimmy Graham: The Saints tight end saw some extended opportunities with Jeremy Shockey hurting his ribs in early November and Graham's 49 yards and a score on 3 catches is an indication that his raw receiving skills and great size already makes him an inviting target for Drew Brees. Although it would be inaccurate to label Shockey the Chad Pennington of tight ends, he has seemed to be falling apart 3-4 years ago. Counting on Shockey to stay healthy is only a good bet if you're in a contest with the Todd Heap owner. It means Graham could surprise against teams like St. Louis, Baltimore and Atlanta.

Tyler Thigpen: Thigpen's mobility might just be the tonic for what ails Brandon Marshall. If the Dolphins make it a point use Thigpen on bootlegs and incorporate more first down play action passes, this will not only help the ground game but it will also help the Dolphins get single coverage on Marshall. Thigpen had five multiple touchdown games and five games of at least 230 yards during his tenure as a starter with Kansas City in 2008. The Dolphins offense is a better all-around unit if skill players and linemen.

Grab and Stash

If you're in a dynasty league, these are grab and stash players that have fallen out of favor with owners or most leagues deem non-existent. I'm excluding Nate Davis and Cedric Peerman, two players you should already know by now that I still believe in but I have talked about extensively. Here's one offensive player and several defensive players to watch.

TE Kellen Davis: The Bears tight end seems to make my list every year, but he continues to flash skills when he gets on the field. Just look at his stats when he gets onto the field.

Year
Wk
Opp
Trgt
Rec
Yds
TDs
Fpts
2010
10
Min
1
1
19
1
7.9
2009
2
Pit
6
5
38
1
9.8
2009
4
Det
2
2
20
1
8.0
2009
8
Cle
1
0
0
0
0.0
2009
10
SF
3
0
0
0
0.0
2009
11
Phi
2
2
17
1
7.7

In the six games that he's seen a target in his first three years, Davis has 10 catches on 20 targets for 94 yards and 4 touchdowns. Davis has the size and athleticism to become a strong red zone target as a starter. Jay Cutler likes to target him there and I wouldn't be surprised if he finds starting opportunity elsewhere when his rookie contract ends.

LB Jason Worilds: The rookie from Virginia Tech was competing with Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson in camp and early reports seemed to favor Gibson. But it is Worilds who has performed on special teams and Gibson who was cut this month. I though Worilds was extremely impressive in pursuit and his burst up the field is tremendous. I think he'll eventually be the next scary Steelers OLB in a long line of them.

DT Corey Wootton: The Bears defensive tackle had first-round talent but injuries hurt his draft status. Wootton nearly earned spot time for the Bears this year and I think with another offseason of work, he could see the field and eventually become a highly productive DT with some pass rushing skill.

LB O'Brien Schofield: The Cardinals need more youth in its linebacker corps, and Ken Whisenhunt installed the 3-4 defense with the hope of drafting players that could develop into "Steelers Southwest" unit. Schofield has that potential. He's an explosive pass rusher that might have been a late first-round pick if he didn't tear is ACL at the 2010 Senior Bowl. He should be 100 percent by training camp.

LB Eric Norwood: The Panthers can't seem to keep its linebackers healthy and Norwood has the instincts and drive of a first-round pick, but with second day athleticism. Give Norwood more time to learn the pro game and you'll see player that react more and think less, resulting in faster play.

S Kam Chancellor: One of the reasons Seahawks coach and GM Pete Carroll didn't select his USC safety Taylor Mays was the potential of grabbing a big athlete like Chancellor in the late rounds and giving him a chance to develop behind old pro Lawyer Milloy. I think Chancellor has the tackling skills and athleticism to develop into a fantasy stud.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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