The Inside Men - Gut Check #230
By Matt Waldman
August 29th, 2011

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

The Inside Men (AKA Waldman's 20 or The All-Gut Check Team)

My name is Matt Waldman. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully, (although I often repeat myself). I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a confined draft slot. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub.

I used to use the variation of this opening quote from Spike Lee's movie The Inside Man, to comment on Antonio Gates' value as a lynchpin to drafting a great team. But I'm expanded my operations and I have now assembled a team of a players capable of stealing your draft from the 9-15 other dumbfounded marks in the room. With the help of my tiered cheat sheet, I'm going to introduce you to Waldman's players capable of stealing your opponents blind.

You have to understand that Average Draft Position is the law and rather than waiting for the law to benefit you, you have to break the law and take what's yours. This strategy requires that you break ADP and pick talent. Don't "what-if" me after reading it. This is a finely tuned, high wire act of jewel thieving. Not some Upside Down, Value-Based, or any pre-baked, Betty Crocker Oven recipe.

If you get caught, you can pay big-time, but few people sipping fruit drinks in sleepy Caribbean hideaways got there without risk (or the Witness Protection Program). All thieving is risky so if you don't have the stomach for it, stick to your nice suburban life of mayonnaise sandwiches, plaid shorts, and mowing the lawn. But if you're in then keep reading, because I've cased the Where for months and identified just the right team to pull it off.

The team is good enough that if you select at least one of these players every two rounds you're going to have enough diamonds to live a cozy fantasy life this season. If you go for the whole team, I want my 10 percent cut (on top of whatever you paid for your Footballguys subscription).

I could also call this "Waldman's 20," because among the 40 Inside Men participating in this heist there's 20 pivotal players who will help you pull off the con that gets you into vault. Just like last week's Tiered Cheat Sheet article, I'm going to present the information in similar fashion. The players in blue highlight will help you run the con on the easy marks in your draft.

These blue players already have a deflated value and they are likely to drop a little more than their current ADP. Let them fall just below their respective average draft positions and take them. If they fall lower than you think, jump on them. The players in green highlight are undervalued players who your opposition will believe you're reaching for. This will help distract them enough to think they are getting value and continue to allow these blue players to drop.

Not everyone in your league will be an easy mark, but you'll discover that enough of these Inside Men will get to their allotted positions for you to pull off the ultimate heist on draft day. The examples below are for a snake draft in a 12-team league, but I'm sure you can figure out how to adjust it to your needs.

The 2011 Inside Men (Waldman's 20)

ADP Key

Run the con - take at or below ADP
Bait and switch - take a little earlier than ADP
Straight men - what you see is what you get

Rounds 1-2 Inside Men

Rds
1-2
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Adrian Peterson, Min (1.02)
Ray Rice, Bal (1.04)
Andre Johnson, Hou (1.07)
Calvin Johnson, Det (1.11)
Roddy White, Atl (1.12)
Vincent Jackson, SD (2.06)
Felix Jones, Dal (3.10)

If you're drafting early, Peterson and Rice are the only two backs I feel certain can handle the job as an opening-round runner. If neither is available then take the big, physical game-breaking receivers that can defeat bracket coverage.

"The Opener" Felix Jones (3.10): Jones has an ADP of 3.10, but he's worth more than this and the savvy drafter will try to take him in the early third round. He will likely mock you for reaching for him early because he wanted him. Or the easy marks will be laughing at you for your rash judgment. Jones has finally figured out the physical "sweet spot" to add muscle without losing speed and stamina and it shows on the field. I think he's a top-12 back this year, but your opponents will think you're a risk-taking fool. That's good, because they will smugly stay on course with their mayonnaise sandwiches, plaid shorts, and lawn mowing. If have an early pick in the third-round you can wait until then to take Jones after two receivers, but I'm not sure I'd take that risk.

Rounds 3-4 Inside Men

Rds
3-4
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Quarterbacks
Tight Ends
Mark Ingram, NO (5.01)
Jermichael Finley, GB (4.09)
Ryan Mathews, SD (4.11)
Reggie Wayne, Ind (3.08)
Santonio Holmes, NYJ (4.12)
Peyton Manning, Ind (4.08)

If our "The Opener" falls to round three, take him. Otherwise, you want to target two of these three players: Mark Ingram, Jermichael Finley, and Santonio Holmes.

"The Rookie" - Ingram is the perfect RB2 with RB1 upside. The reason is if Ingram splits time with Pierre Thomas as the more "reasoned" brethren in your league will make a point to tell you, he's still going to be the redzone option and earn 220-240 carries. If "the split" is in name only then you have yourself an RB1. He's the only rookie inside of round 8 hence his nickname.

"The Freak" - Finley is the contortionist of your fantasy lineup. He can produce like a WR2, but he can fit in your lineup as a TE1. You don't intentionally skip players that heavy-duty film watchers like ESPN's Matt Williamson or NFL Films' Greg Cosell call a freak. He's virtually uncoverable and if you can play two TEs, he gives you extraordinary flexibility if you grab the other hybrid TE of my crew. Then if you lose a WR to injury you can still post strong stats top to bottom in your lineup.

"Holmes" - He's very at home in the red zone for a man of his dimensions and he's definitely Mark Sanchez's "Holmes." He's the ideal WR3 this year and a very solid WR2 with borderline WR1 upside if everything clicks in Gotham.

Running the round 3-4 Con

"Mr. Fragile." Ryan Mathews is a top-15 back. Go along with the notion that Mike Tolbert isn't leaving that backfield because Mathews is fragile of body and mind. Play that con to the hilt. I almost bought it in early August because of an old ESPN article I dug up where Mathews' high school coach talked about Mathews' fragile confidence level. We're talking about high school! Sure, Mathews had some injury issues early in college and the pros, but I don't know of many backs that can actually play at the level he did with a high ankle sprain. Most miss time and don't even try to get on the field. If his name comes up before you draft, call him Mr. Fragile and once he drops to the early fifth, don't hesitate to take him if you need a runner.

"Whiplash" - Peyton Manning might miss the opener! The Colts talked Kerry Collins out of retirement! Manning hasn't even practiced in the preseason! Did you notice that no one from the Colts organization is saying Manning might miss 3-4 games? Do you really care if Peyton Manning misses two weeks at the beginning of the season if you can get him 2-3 rounds later than he's been available in over a decade? If Manning falls to the fifth round, you have to take him and deal with the fact that he might miss a game or two. Plus, "taking the chance," on him this high sets up the idea that you you'll wait a bit for a QB. Don't. Turn right around in the sixth or seventh round and take one of the quarterbacks I'll be talking about later. You'll hear the air collectively go out of the room when you do it. Your league will realize too late that you just walked in and stole their valuables while they watched.

"The Bag Man" - Reggie Wayne's has the potential to continue falling along with Manning's for the same ill-conceived logic. I've seen him fall to the fifth round already. If he falls further then let him be the one to alert your league to put their hands in the air and surrender. Whether it's Manning, Wayne, or both, you're going to have a massive head start on the ADP (Average Draft Patrol).

Rounds 5-6 Inside Men

Rds
5-6
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Quarterbacks
Tight Ends
Jason Witten, Dal (5.07)
Dallas Clark, Ind (5.07
Percy Harvin, Min (5.11)
Brandon Lloyd, Den (5.01
Matthew Stafford, Det (8.04)
Ben Roethlisberger, Pit (6.09)
Joseph Addai, Ind (7.06)

If your league doesn't fall for the con in rounds 3-4 to net you Mr. Fragile, Whiplash, or The Bagman in round five, then you have some really solid straight men in Witten, Harvin, and Lloyd to do honest work for you. If they are gone, I'd take make it a point to consider the two Inside Men below.

"Red Cross" - Matt Stafford has never had an injury problem until he came to the NFL. He's bulked up and by all accounts he looks like a budding Pro Bowl quarterback during the preseason. He does to me. So much so that I wouldn't blink twice to take him in the late stage of round six or the mid-seventh after I get Manning in the fifth if you feel the least big queasy about Whiplash's outlook. That should tell you Stafford is fine as your QB1 if you choose to wait on a quarterback.

"M*A*S*H*" - Addai always seems hurt, but it's what I call a light con. Three of his five seasons are RB1 quality in production. If you can expect 13 games out of your RB I think you're doing pretty well. Addai has done that in three of his first five seasons. The Colts want to run more anyhow. They've upgraded the line. If M*A*S*H* winds up in OR then just keep an eye on the Delone Carter as his handcuff. Otherwise, he's going to make a fine RB2.

Round 5-6 Cons

"Crash" - Ben Roethlisberger takes too many risks. He takes too many hits. Other than Mike Wallace, his receivers are old (Ward), hurt (Emmanuel Sanders), or unproven (Antonio Brown…who?). Roethlisberger keeps getting better as a quarterback and Antonio Brown is one of our Inside Men. This is a classic bait and switch that begins with the long con of taking "Crash" Roethlisberger and finishing with the short con of "Burn" Brown a little earlier than most would imagine. "Crash and Burn" might sound ominous, but only for your competition.

"The Getaway Driver" - Clark is falling to the sixth round in some drafts because of the Whiplash con that our man Manning is running on most leagues. If Clark pulls up at the corner of sixth, jump in with the loot and he'll drive you to the safe house. Seriously, how does Clark fall this far? Even if Kerry Collins starts a game or two we're going to see those safe passes down the seam. Like candy from a baby, folks. Except no wailing toddlers.

Rounds 7-8 Inside Men

Rds
7-8

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Reggie Bush, Mia (7.07)
James Starks, GB (9.03)
Nate Burleson, Det (11.12)
Antonio Brown, Pit (19.01)
Willis McGahee, Den (10.08)
Michael Bush, Oak (9.07)
Donald Driver, GB (11.02)

"For Granted" - Most people still presume Ryan Grant is the starter in Green Bay. It's becoming more apparent that James Starks has outplayed Grant in the preseason and his time will be coming sooner than later this season. If not an outright coup of Grant's job, it will be a timeshare. Starks is a talented runner. I keep saying this and folks are slow to get aboard. He might not ever be an elite runner, but he's definitely more talented than Grant ever was. He has better lateral explosiveness and he's learned how to attack with his pads. I think he's a poor man's Ryan Mathews in terms of potential. He'll make a nice RB2 down the stretch.

"Second Banana" - Nate Burleson is known as the second banana to Calvin Johnson and it's true. But last I recall, Donald Drive was second banana to Greg Jennings; Reggie Wayne was at one time second banana to Marvin Harrison; Vincent Jackson is second banana to Antonio Gates; Steve Smith was second banana to Hakeem Nicks; and Jeremy Maclin is second banana to DeSean Jackson. Considering how much Stafford targets Burleson on quick-hitting routes in the end zone I'll take Burleson over a couple of dozen receivers ranked ahead of him.

"Burn" - Have you seen Antonio Brown this preseason? He's catching everything, single coverage, between coverage, or over the top of coverage. It doesn't matter. Once he catches the ball his burst is terrific. He's burning through the opposing secondary as Roethlisberger's passing is the match that ignites the rocket booster that is Brown. I swear I see fire coming out of hind parts as soon as the ball is in his hands. Emmanuel Sanders is still getting healthy and Hines Ward is a solid, but third option right now. The reason is that according to Roethlisberger, Brown has figured out his role in the offense and the routes and reads are becoming second nature. I'd take Brown earlier than some of the bigger name sleepers. If you want to wait until rounds 9-10 or even later (if you play with really easy marks) then by all means. Just make sure you grab him.

Rounds 9-10 Inside Men

Rds
9-10
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Aaron Hernandez, NE (12.12)
Ben Tate, Hou (11.08)
Delone Carter, Ind (13.11)
Jason Hill, Jac (19.08)
Mike Sims-Walker, StL (8.04)
Earl Bennett, Chi (17.06)
Montario Hardesty, Cle (13.01)

"Rodney" - I think Hernandez is getting massive amounts of disrespect from fantasy owners. He's up there with Jermichael Finley in terms of potential, but everyone is focused on Rob Gronkowski. Granted, the Pats inline tight end has top-five potential but with Chad Ochocinco having issues learning the offense and the fact that Hernandez can play outside, I think Hernandez could average 5 catches a game in this system. Even if Ochocinco catches on, I think Hernandez is such a great match up beater that I think a lot of fantasy owners will be seen on Mondays with self-inflicted slap marks on their foreheads from dissing the Pats "No.2" tight end.

"Take Him" - I didn't like what I saw at Auburn, but take him. Even if you don't have Arian Foster, take him. What if you already have 7 RBs? Take him. If there are two words you are going to remember and act upon it should be these: Take him. If Chris Ogbonnaya can look good behind this offensive line then Tate is a must-have.

"The Cuff" - Ben Tate might be the ultimate handcuff in most people's eyes because there is a recent chink in Arian Foster's seemingly invulnerable stud status. However, Delone Carter is in arguably a better offense than Tate and he's the undisputed No.2 RB to Addai whereas Tate still has to contend with Derrick Ward - even if that doesn't seem like much of a chore.

Rounds 11-12 Inside Men

Rds
11-12
Wide Receivers
Quarterbacks
Tight Ends
Eric Decker, Den (n/a)
Greg Little, Cle (12.03)
Denarius Moore, Oak (15.11)
Mark Sanchez, NYJ (12.11
Donovan McNabb, Min (12.01)
Brandon Pettigrew, Det (12.07)
John Beck, Was (n/a)

"Bronco Muhammad" - Eric Decker will be playing the Muhsin Muhammad role to Brandon Lloyd's Steve Smith in John Fox's "Carolina West," offense. Decker has the big frame to take punishment and outmuscle the average cornerback. He also has the innate skills to make the tough catches in the middle of the field and red area that will soon make him a big-time favorite of Kyle Orton if the increasing number of preseason targets isn't an indication that it's already happening. Decker could produce like a No.3 fantasy receiver. Cut through the line of stiffs waiting in line at the ADP station and take Bronco Muhammad.

"McBomber" - Did you watch McNabb hit Berrian over the safety Saturday night? Get accustomed to that because the best part of the venerable McNabb's game is that play action deep ball. Berrian and Devin Aromashodu will be able to get deep down the rails of the field enough for some quality games and this will open up the intermediate range for Michael Jenkins and Visanthe Shiancoe. Then there's "Lord Have Mercy," Percy, who is going to be open wherever McNabb decides to motion him. McNabb might still throw balls in the dirt on short passes under pressure, but he's going to have enough big plays to make only the bitterest Eagle fans forget that point.

Late-round Con

"Becked" - This time next year, John Beck's last name is going to take on a verb form in fantasy football leagues. "Becked," will be defined as a fantasy owner getting ridiculous value off his competition by waiting until the last round to get a player with starter caliber production. Used in a sentence: Wildman becked the Footballguys.com Staff League on his way to a championship. Beck will win the job in Washington. Watch the game against the Ravens and what you'll see are several things that make him the better fit than Grossman:

  1. He was more aggressive downfield.
  2. Shanahan can use him on bootlegs more effectively - a staple of his offenses.
  3. Beck has been more accurate with his placement.
  4. Beck has been more creative and poised when the pocket breaks down.

Remember, Beck was a player whose strengths reminded many of Drew Brees' strengths. That's not to say Beck is Drew Brees, but if he develops in a positive direction he could become a solid starter who reminds even the casual observer of Brees in style, if not production.

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

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