Gut Check #221
By Matt Waldman
June 30th, 2011

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

My Homage to The Wire and Bill Simmons
Or
"The things I do to humiliate myself for Footballguys readers."

Dear Fantasy Football Nuts,

This is when I am supposed to welcome you back, tell you how glad I am that the lockout isn't likely to derail pro football, and that I ate, drank, and breathed every minute detail of the negotiations between the players and the owners.

I wish I could lie.

I read books. I watched movies. I watched fantastic television. I resumed doing yoga every morning and began bicycling to work. I even returned to a plant-based diet, dropped 25 pounds (and counting), and I grew my hair long.

I'm not kidding.

I'm thinking dreds might be next. Run-Matty-Run.

Okay, I'm (probably) kidding there . . .

Although I'm sure you're thankful that steamed kale and vegan protein smoothies weren't a part of your spring, I hope most of you had the sense to find ways to unplug from the noise that have been the NFL Labor Talks. If Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith, and Andrew Brandt were must-see TV then I'd have to think that you either own an NFL-related business or you were locked in a bank lobby. Then again, if I'm wrong about those conclusions is just more proof that people will watch anything ESPN shows on SportsCenter and if you cared about the game that much you get a free pass.

However, what should not get a pass are some NFL beat reporters on Twitter. It was pitiful reading Tweets trying to convince their followers that they were engaged in some bizarre form of self-flagellation because they had to cover the NBA finals or an MLB game. Whining about covering professional sports? Isn't that like the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation crying poverty because his quarterly earnings were down from $60 million to $58 million and he'll just have to continue enjoying his current yacht?

I have two words for you locker room jockeys: Shut up.

At least I have the solace of Thursday nights with my pals Sigmund Bloom and Cecil Lammey where non-football, football-related activities were at least entertaining at The Audible. Is there really a comparison between the entertainment factor of Andrew Brandt and the three of us on the air discovering a term for Lammey's big RB fetish?

All I know is it's a good thing the Incredible Hulk isn't suiting up or Lammey would be pulling a Ditka.

Further proof that some puns are still funny.

But let's get to football before I decide that I'd rather re-watch from beginning to end the entire five seasons of The Wire. If you haven't seen this HBO series, it is a page-turner of an on-screen novel that depicts crime and corruption in the city of Baltimore. You don't need to know anything else - just rent it.

It's that good.

In fact, go ahead and buy the series box set. Easiest recommendation I could ever make short of traveling back in time and telling you to pick Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the 98 rookie dynasty draft.

In honor of The Wire, I'm going to give you my pre-free agency purview of the 2011 fantasy football landscape through the lens of my favorite characters from my new favorite show.

In other words, this column is going to suck. The reason it is going to suck is that I'm attempting to pay homage to a writer that at least one out of every three aspiring fantasy football writers want to be.

Bill Simmons.

You see, I had the nagging feeling Bill Simmons already wrote a column with references to The Wire. Sure enough, there's a May 3 column where Simmons pairs his favorite quotes from the show with NBA analysis.

I'm not bagging on Simmons. I enjoy his work. I love the idea of Grantland because I'm a big fan of Long Form Journalism. But over the years, I've heard from my share of aspiring writers who want me to help them break into the fantasy football industry and all too often they envision doing a Bill Simmons-like column.

Let's skip my first thought for a moment. My second thought is that I'm still trying to break in. My third thought, which is the first I share with them is, "are you currently writing anything about fantasy football - even if it isn't published?"

Back to my first thought, which is more of an image that pops into my head when someone tells me that they envision writing a Bill Simmons column for a sports site:

"Well Wade, two years of high school football...VARSITY!"

The fact there's a line of guys at home who think they can do Bill Simmons' job is a tremendous backhanded compliment to a writer who makes it look easy.

So one time, and one time only, I'm going to don the green cape, the green Chucks, and take a bullet for all you wannabe Bill Simmons columnists out there with my preseason fantasy football overview/homage to The Wire and Bill Simmons. If you enjoyed it, let me know. If it sucks, don't say I didn't warn you.

Randy Moss (Officer Jimmy McNulty): Although appearance-wise Moss and Omar Little - the best TV anti-hero ever - are twins separated from birth, I think Moss is strikingly similar to McNulty. These boorish louts are "naturals" at their craft. However, they were born to do their jobs. McNulty is "natural po-lice," and Moss is simply the only player who could have a great NFL career while playing when he wanted to play.

When they are on their game, both McNulty and Moss are the best around. The problem is Moss and McNulty possess a lethal concoction of idealism and pragmatism. You know the kind of guy I'm talking about. He has such high expectations for everyone else that when others don't live up to them he implodes.

Admittedly the self-destructive tendencies are great entertainment if you're not on their team.

This is McNulty and Moss. Both know how great they are and they expect everything done their way. When it doesn't happen, they manufacture problems and do whatever it takes to get shipped out.

Their career trajectories are almost identical:

Jimmy McNulty's Career
Randy Moss' Career
Top homicide detective.
Dominating receiver for Vikings alongside Cris Carter.
Moved to harbor patrol after ticking off major.
Moved to Raiders after ticking off Vikings ownership.
Career resuscitated with special crimes gig.
Career resuscitated with Patriots deal. Brady throws 50 TDs first year.
Begins to act normal as roleplaying beat officer.
Settles into Patriots with another nice season. Seems drama free.
Moves back to homicide with a choice case.
Shipped back to Vikings with Favre, Harvin, and Peterson.
Invents a serial killer when things go sour.
Berates a caterer when things go sour.
Living wake given to celebrate a forced retirement.
Titans give Moss a living wake in Tennessee.

The similarities are uncanny.

Still, it's more desirable than necessarily realistic for the average fantasy owner to write off Moss. Sure, he's ultimate malcontent who, like McNulty, plays when he wants to play.

You almost pray that Moss retires before he pulls another McNulty-like shenanigan, but I have a feeling I'd be wrong. As much as upper management hates these guys, teammates still love them and coaches have a love hate ambivalence because they know when placed in a good situation they can do things others can't.

Place Moss on a contender with a good quarterback and a coaching staff that buys into the idea of giving him the ball and ask yourself whether there are 20 wide receivers you'd rather have for one year than a motivated Randy Moss?

I can think of 10-15, but that's because Moss is in his mid-30s. And if you get past the disgust you may feel about Moss, you know I'm closer to the truth than you want to admit.

The problem is whether Moss' heart will accompany his body to camp. The answer lies in the organization that takes him. If we get the right answer, taking a chance on him is a no-brainer - especially where you can draft him. Otherwise, expect more McNulty-like implosions.

Josh McDaniels (Colonel Cedric Daniels): The new offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams has a skilled mind for strategy much like Officer Daniels, who in Season One, got stuck with a bunch of cast offs to investigate a case nobody wanted to see lead anywhere.

Daniels managed to get credit for unearthing some gems from the bowels of the police force that did surprisingly good work. However, you're never quite sure whether it was really Daniels' leadership or the underestimated skills of the detectives who just needed a chance to shine.

The same could be said for Josh McDaniels, who took his share of castoffs in Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd, and Jabar Gaffney and made them a competitive (and productive) unit. Like the Broncos, the Rams seem to be a similar situation. Although they have a terrific young player in Sam Bradford, their other most talented player is Steven Jackson whose time is running out sooner than later. After that, we're looking at a receiving corps consisting of a bunch of NFL disappointments or draft day castoffs that include Mark Clayton, Donnie Avery, Laurent Robinson, Danario Alexander, and Danny Amendola.

In this sense, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is once again in a very similar situation as Lieutenant Cedric Daniels in Season One. The best-case scenario is that McDaniels proves that he has the mind for the game and the leadership acumen to elevate the performance of mediocre talent, inspire good talent, and develop new talent. However, he'll have to improve his political acumen with players, team management, and media or another opportunity to ascend the NFL ladder won't be as quick to materialize.

The worst-case scenario is that McDaniels' performance doesn't merit the hype. If the Rams struggle, he'll be regarded as little more than a beneficiary of Bill Belichick's success with limited success for a short time in the Mile High City.

Greg Salas and Austin Pettis aside, this group has talent in the cupboard, but the way they have collectively performed thus far you can almost imagine these receivers on opposite sides of a desk wedged between a doorway and both groups pushing an end while cursing that it won't budge. St. Louis used to be the Greatest Show on Turf, but the circus left town and forgot to tell the clowns in the Volkswagen. Fortunately, I think this was part of the act and there's a lot more in that little car than we presume.

While I believe Greg Salas has starter talent, this year we're going to get a chance to see if McDaniels can maximize the potential of his veterans. I'm betting on Mark Clayton. He may lack the eye-popping speed of Donnie Avery but I think he has a well-rounded game and more rapport with Bradford.

Amendola should provide the slot presence Eddie Royal couldn't master in Denver, which makes Sam Bradford the quarterback to watch in the NFC. Let Roddy White talk all he wants about becoming the next Greatest Show on Turf, but as strange as it looks staring at a Volkswagen filled with clowns where a big top used to be, I wouldn't be surprised if Sam Bradford out produces Matt Ryan in 2011.

Jason Hill (Detective Lester Freamon): In Season One of The Wire, Freamon is one of those castoffs sent to Lieutenant Daniels' Special Crimes Unit. Before that, he spent 13 years shuffling paper on desk duty while devoting most of his workday to building miniature dollhouse furniture. Useless? Not in the hands of competent management. We soon learn that Freamon, like McNulty is "natural po-lice," and when given a chance to get into the game he makes things happen.

If you don't know anything about the career of Jason Hill, there's great potential for him to rise from relative anonymity into a playmaking starter. The Washington State star reminded me a lot of less explosive, but still vertically dangerous, Isaac Bruce. However, Hill didn't win over defensive-minded coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. They didn't listen to the effusive praise from Mike Martz. The same Mike Martz who I think had the sense to diminish the roles of Devin Hester and Devin Aromashodu because they lacked complete games.

I have a feeling there's a lot more to that story in San Francisco and getting any analysis of Hill's performance from beat writer is effectively useless. They're probably still spending six hours per day fishing for sympathy in 140 characters or less anyhow.

I think Hill could be a Lester Freamon in 2011 because of what he showed in 2010. However, just like the Baltimore City Police Department's approach to crime, there's a split in how fantasy writers view Hill's performance last year. If you're seeking advice of writers that want to massage stats like the politically motivated, brass of high-ranking officers that have to answer to the mayor and cover their hind parts, then Hill's 11 catches for 248 yards and 1 TD aren't useful.

However, if you're seeking advice from a guy who does good old-fashioned detective work by collecting evidence, then the situations in which Hill was used and the quick transition to the field after a midseason acquisition is more telling than a box score. I know some of my more highbrow contemporaries from big networks think Jacksonville will pursue a free agent receiver. I'm not so sure. I think Hill, Thomas, and Marcedes Lewis can hold it down if Cecil Shorts and Jarret Dillard can fill the gaps on the depth chart. It's the defense this team has to address.

I think Hill has enough upside to earn 800-1000 yards and 6-10 scores in Jacksonville. Since you can draft him as a guy projected at 400-600 yards and 4-6 scores, I'd say he's a definite Lester Freamon.

Cedric Benson ("Herc" Hauk): Herc is the police officer who does one thing wrong that nearly cancels out the two things he does right. His errors come from an inflated sense of entitlement. He's the guy that you should be able to rely on to do something simple, but he invariably messes it up. He thinks the duty is beneath him and tries to take on more. Then he makes it worse by trying to hide the fact that he screwed the pooch.

Benson has having Herc-like tendencies. He's 28 years old, coming off a 3.5 YPC season, and the Bengals still want him. Although I agree it is debatable, I believe Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman could do the job better as a committee.

If you ask me, Benson was a reclamation project at best when he arrived in Cincinnati after blowing a golden opportunity with the Bears. You would like to see him have the self-awareness to realize at 28 he ought to stick with the team that believed in him. But I have this nagging feeling Benson will chase the money, end up in a situation were he has one more year at best as a starter, and then feels slighted when he's placed in the background the following year.

I wouldn't be shocked long-term if Benson ends up playing less and making less if he leaves Cincinnati for what appears to be more money. He's Herc - he can be good, he should be good, but he can't help find a way to underachieve.

Pride is only good with self-awareness and integrity. I remember when he tried to distance himself from Ricky Williams during the "Grass Valley Years," after reportedly worshipping the Heisman Winner at Texas. Now I think most people would rather have Ricky Williams the person than Benson the person. Personally, I think Williams is still a better player despite his age. Go figure.

Al Davis (Deputy Stan Valchek): Sigmund Bloom loved this comparison. Valchek is the epitome of the boss that an employee prays will stick to playing with the toys on his desk and making non-work decisions. Stan Valchek is an older, more dangerous version of Michael Scott from The Office.

To open Season Two, Valchek launches an investigation and campaign of harassment of the dockworkers. The impetus isn't crime. His pride is wounded because the Stevedores donated a stained glass collection for the main window of the local church Valchek had been planning to do on behalf of the police. You tell me that thinking doesn't sound like Al Davis' treatment of Marcus Allen.

There was a time Davis was a great football coach and owner back when people listened to music on vinyl. But we're in a digitized society now and the needle is not only still on the record, its stuck and wearing out the same song. Like Valchek, everyone knows Davis is now too dangerous for his own good and short of a complete meltdown no one can remove him from his post. While there were problems with Tom Cable's regime, the coach put some pieces in place to make Oakland a tough out.

The best of these improvements was the ground game. Darren McFadden might be everyone's fantasy buddy heading into this year, but I still haven't seen enough significant changes to his running style to give him as much credit as he's receiver. Cable's job of shaking up the offensive line deserves a little more publicity. McFadden's elite speed and fearless style makes him a big play threat, but those holes in front of him made up for some of his after contact deficiencies that I've discussed for years.

If Al Davis pulls a Valchek on the Hue Jackson coaching regime or Jackson decides to reinvent the wheel, McFadden's 2010 might turn out to be a career year. If that's the case and Michael Bush leaves for another team, the Raiders will remain a rudderless ship.

Chad Ochocinco ("Bubbles"): Perhaps the character that embodies the soul of The Wire is its lovable junkie-snitch "Bubbles," who demonstrates the intelligence, charm, and endless guile to get his daily fix throughout the first four seasons. Despite his tremendous flaws - his own sister won't even let him venture upstairs from the basement after being clean for well over a year because of past transgressions - there's something vibrant about the guy that makes you cheer for him.

Chad Ochocinco at one time charmed the entire NFL with youthful enthusiasm, his witty banter with opponents, and his emerging play. But I think Ochocinco got addicted to fame and now it seems like he'll do just about anything for a daily fix of notoriety. The reality show, bull riding, Tweeting, and obsession with non-football popularity have hurt his game.

However, there's still a glimmer of hope that Ochocinco can get past all of this and rededicated himself to the game rather than the fame. Just like Bubbles, who eventually worked through his addiction issues long enough to return to his sober life as "Reginald," and earn a meal upstairs with his sister's family, maybe Ochocinco will go back to being Chad Johnson and the Bengals will let him out of their basement to feast on cornerbacks with a new outlook. The odds are against it, but with a guy like Ochocinco, there's always hope.

Bilal Powell (Marlo Stanfield): Marlo Stanfield is the next big-time dealer. He seeming comes out of nowhere in Season Three, makes his move in Season Four, and becomes the man in Season Five. He's soft-spoken, smart as hell, and ruthlessly aggressive.

Several great football players in the history of the game fit that description: Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders immediately come to mind. A fantasy football Marlo Stanfield is that guy you don't know much about, wonder if he's for real, and by the time you realize he is, it's too late for you. The last incarnation of Marlo was Arian Foster. Terrell Davis was a Marlo Stanfield. So was Priest Holmes.

Jets rookie runner Bilal Powell has all the components to be a Marlo. He's a swift, aggressive, downhill runner with smarts in a soft-spoken package. If you want to learn more about him, you can go to my NY Times RSP excerpt or the Q&A I did with Powell at the Senior Bowl.

Powell's 2011 season will be like Marlo in Season Three; you're going to see glimpses of why the Jets were high-fiving each other in the war room when they snagged the rookie on day two of the NFL Draft. By 2012, Powell should be in Marlo's Season Four Mode, making his ascent atop the depth chart (I guess that makes Shonn Greene "Bodie."). By 2013, I think Powell will be giving notice to the league in the same way Marlo stepped to the Greek and became the man.

The reason I think Powell has Marlo potential is that Marlo had brutally capable henchmen in Chris Parlow and Snoop. These two soldiers were more than willing to do the dirty work to pave the way. The Jets offensive line and its aggressive, pressure defense are great complements to a good running back and I think they will serve as Snoop and Parlow to Powell's Marlo.

Powell might not be more than an end of the roster addition in re-draft leagues, but keep your eyes peeled because like I said before, by the time you wonder if he's for real, it's too late for you.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Namond Brice): Brice's daddy was an assassin for former Westside Baltimore kingpin Avon Barksdale. Brice has been raised with the expectation of becoming the next tough guy, but he lacks his dad's mentality. Brice only talks the game. When its time to walk it, he usually runs the other direction. Houshmandzadeh spent last year complaining about a lack of looks; talking big and eventually coming up small versus the Steelers in the playoffs. At least Brice was a teenager in the wrong profession. Ironically, they share the same ponytail. I'm more sympathetic to Brice though.

Plaxico Burress ("Prez" Pryzbylewski): Prez begins the story as one of the castoff cops, a product of police department nepotism gone wrong who always seems to be firing his weapon at the wrong time, but eventually displays an unconventional skill set that helps his team.

Sound familiar?

Burress isn't fast, but he's very adept at reading defenses and defensive opponents' tendencies. Just like Prez, who eventually becomes a schoolteacher and at first you wonder if he's going to get eaten alive by the students during the transition, I have the same fears for Burress a couple of years removed from the game and no longer at his physical peak.

But Burress in a sense is a Cris Carter-like receiver who discovered he had to rely on different skill sets than the traditional speedy-quick receiver to thrive in the NFL. I'm not sold on a big splash from Burress. The team that takes him might provide further clue on whether to take his return seriously.

New England Patriots (Prop Joe): They're always making a deal and like Prop Joe the Eastside Baltimore kingpin, they are never completely out of the picture because they are always retooling their plan. It's going to be entertaining which players develop into Brady favorites this year because the passer's supporting cast could be a draft day bargain. Jets fans that watched The Wire hope I'm dead-on about Bilal Powell as my Marlo Stanfield.

Marshawn Lynch (Cutty): Cutty is muscle for street kingpin Avon Barksdale. He served serious time for murder. A former amateur boxer with talent, Cutty gets out of prison and gets a true homecoming welcome from the Barksdale crew for his loyalty. However, Cutty quickly begins to question the merits of his old lifestyle and has en epiphany that changes his direction in life from street thug to boxing instructor.

You might be thinking Plaxico Burress is Cutty, because he had talent, went to prison, and is coming out a humbled man. On the surface you'd be correct, but I'm not being that literal. If there's an NFL player who embodies Cutty's character arc I believe Marshawn Lynch is one of the better candidates.

Lynch came into the league a more disciplined, technique-savvy, runner than Adrian Peterson. He even had a better third-down game. Don't get me wrong; Peterson has the rare force of nature talent that overrode some of glaring technique issues. Lynch looked like the more polished player. But Lynch never really made the transition to NFL professional that Peterson did and in some respects his game and his relationship with the Buffalo Bills suffered.

Getting shipped to Seattle was in many ways a release from a penitentiary in upstate New York. It's nothing personal, Bills fans - I'm talking more about his situation and not the organization in general. However, the Bills-Seahawks trade parallels Cutty's release from prison and subsequent revelation that he was still on a road to nowhere.

But I think Lynch's fourth-quarter playoff run in Beast Mode against the Saints could have served as a career-altering epiphany for Lynch. Cutty and Lynch are both body punchers that wear down their opponents. We'll see in the coming weeks of free agency if Seattle believes in Lynch. If they do, I still think he's a mid-round value in 2011.

Jonathan Stewart (Michael Lee): Michael Lee is a natural soldier. Brave, smart, and freakishly mature with the way he handles himself physically, Lee at one time seems destined to join Parlow and Snoop as top muscle for Marlo Stanfield. You almost wish Cutty won the battle to direct Lee into the more relatively straight and narrow path of boxing than street soldier.

Stewart could very well be the most physical back in the NFL. He's definitely one of the more freakishly athletic big men carrying a football at this point in the game. Nagging injuries and sharing time with "little brother" DeAngelo Williams have slowed Stewart's early career development in much the same way that Lee's emotionally injured, drug-addled mother forces the young man to watch over his little brother. Eventually, Lee sends his little brother packing for a better life and makes the commitment to pursue what he knows best - taking what he learned from the kingpin and running roughshod through those like him.

I see DeAngelo Williams as that talented little brother. And I see a healthy Stewart as finally living up to the mid-round bargain everyone has wanted him to be. Opposing defenses better put on that body armor because the successor to Omar Little is coming. When you see Stewart hitting the line of scrimmage this year, I want you to think of those opposing LBs and safeties shouting, "Stewart comin'!!!"

Kenny Britt (Ziggy Sobotka): Is there a more loveably frustrating screw up than Ziggy Sobotka? The union boss' son would have it made if he could only keep his head down, his ears open, and his mouth shut. Instead, he hangs out with the wrong people, doing the wrong things, and usually at the worst time.

Can you hear the prison intercom? No.49329C, No.49326C report to the visitor's area. [Kenny Britt arrives in an orange jumpsuit escorted by a guard.]

We all know Britt has the physical talent and minimum required technique to become a top-15 receiver in fantasy football. However, you tell him to go left and he goes right. Although he's not dropping trow and taking Anthony Weiner-inspired shots like Ziggy, his repeated arrests are on par with Ziggy buying a duck, bringing it to a bar and feeding it an endless supply of whiskey only to lament the poor bird's untimely demise.

A friend of mine recently got a life coach to help him make decisions that got him into Columbia graduate school. He's one of those guys who created an algorithm to make decisions about his love life. I don't understand it, but I'm glad he does. My friend didn't need a life coach the way Kenny Britt needs a life coach.

Hell, Britt needs a life bouncer and a lo-jack strapped to his ankle that delivers a light shock whenever he gets an idea do anything but eat, sleep, workout, study football, and have dinner at grandmas after church on Sunday.

Based on the NFL's decision to enforce the personal conduct policy for activity that occurred during the lockout, Britt might be having more dinners at grandmas than he expected. I hope she'll be serving plenty of greens prepared the healthy way. He needs to stay fit or he'll lose time to one of my likely 2011 breakout candidates at receiver.

But that's for next week...

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

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