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The Gut Check No.270 - Insanity Series: Group Therapy

Regardless of the outcome, these players are in fantasy ADP situations too crazy to take lightly.

Sometimes there's a fine line between genius and insanity. Take the July 25th podcast of the Audible. Jene Bramel told the audience that he couldn't figure out who he was in the following nickname offered to The Audible Four: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, & Jene Bramel.

If I were having trouble, it would be understandable - it's a 50/50 shot between The Bad and The Ugly - but Bramel was either experiencing an identity crisis (he is after all the superhero to squirrels everywhere) or he was experience the same "fuzzy genius" moment that my 20-year-old daughter (the future engineer) had when she stood in the middle of the living room holding a lamp shaped like a fish in one hand with the plug in the other and acted surprised when the light didn't turn on after she flipped the switch.

College . . . Money well spent. At least it wasn't medical school.    

This fuzziness extends to the rest of the players featured in 2013 Insanity Series wrap-up. Instead of a full-blown, individual consults, Dr. Waldman is holding a group therapy session. These five players have dangerous ADPs entering August 2013:

While their ADPs appear reasonable, I think there's a strong chance they are bound to drive a fantasy owner to distraction on draft day. At Footballguys we don't want the difficulty of these choices to leave you wandering around like my daughter trying to channel Uncle Fester or questioning your very name on air like the good doctor. 

Darren McFadden: Nuclear Terror

Between round three and four, McFadden is the lion in the room you can't ignore. When he breaks through the line of scrimmage into the open field he's like a cheetah hunting down a gazelle in the end zone. Tony Siragusa should be selling those man diapers to opposing defensive coordinators facing McFadden this year for as long as the Raiders back is healthy.

Serious problem. Funny pitch.

When I finished my initial round of projections, I had a healthy McFadden finishing a 16-game season as a top-8 running back in 2013 becuase Oakland returns to the gap style offense that is McFadden's bread and butter. The reason the zone blocking was a failure for McFadden had a lot to do with his strengths and weaknesses as a runner.

McFadden runs with no hesitation. I used to look at this as a flaw, but in the right system it's a gift. Ryan Riddle states it well when he says that non-football players underestimate the courage it takes - even for experienced pros - to run between the tackles with the knowledge that hits can come from any angle. McFadden hits the line like a hungry big-game cat who knows it's kill or be killed.

This is a great mentality for a gap style ground game where there's generally one option for the back to take and do everything possible to make that option work. It doesn't take creativity, but it requires physical play and thrives on great athleticism from its runner.

We all know McFadden is one of the scariest offensive players on any field he treads, but that fear he presents is more like the fear of a nuclear bomb versus a shotgun. Adrian Peterson is like staring down a barrel of a shotgun. The fear is immediate, tangible, and there's nothing Siragusa can sell you to feel confident in the face of his feats of box score demolition. 

The truth is that McFadden is the nuclear weapon. Not in the sense that he's more dangerous than Peterson in terms of a weapon-to-weapon comparison. Like a nuke, McFadden has become more of an abstract weapon of terror. We know it exists, understand what it can do, but there are very few instances in its history where we've seen its power unleashed on human kind to its maximum capacity.

While we're all thankful this is the case, McFadden fans want a football version of DEFCON1. Due to injuries that have plagued McFadden for all but one quality season, the Raiders runner has been operating at DEFCON5.

This injury history presents a clear case to label McFadden an injury risk. I have him projected at 193 carries and 32 receptions for a total of 1316 yards and 8 touchdowns and based on the fact McFadden has only exceeded 1000 total yards once in his 5-year career, I'm being optimistic. McFadden has only been a top-25 fantasy running back once in his career because of injuries.

If he were in the RB35-RB40 range, I'd say take him without reservation, but RB18? Let's take a look at his peers in this tier of fantasy options:

  • Frank Gore RB17 - He may finally cede touches to Kendall Hunter and/or Lamichael James, but behind the best offensive line in football Gore can still get 1000 total yards in his sleep. He's missed 10 games in 8 years, but hasn't missed a game in two years while posted a per-carry average of 4.7 yards last year.
  • Reggie Bush RB19 - Bush has missed one game in two years, and amassed 2072 rushing yards (66.8 yards per game), 12 rushing touchdowns, 78 catches (2.5 catches per game), 582 receiving yards (18.7 receiving yards), and 3 receiving touchdowns in the same span. When Jahvid Best was healthy he averaged 45.1 rushing yards, 36.8 receiving yards, and 4 catches per game in Detroit. Bush has proven he can hang between the tackles, so expect the Lions to give him 15-18 touches per game. I'd rather have Bush's floor than McFadden's.
  • David Wilson RB20 - Here's where there's a compelling argument for McFadden, because there will be no timeshare in Oakland. However, Wilson has as much physical upside and no injury history even if he has to contend with Andre Brown as the goal line option. Considering that I expect McFadden to see significantly fewer goal line attempts than Brown due to the Raiders offense, it's a long score vs. long score comparison Wilson and evens my tale of the tape.
  • Andre Johnson WR10 - Johnson is pick 31 compared to McFadden's pick 32. In a PPR league, it's Johnson for me and it's no contest. Considering Johnson's consistency with yardage, I'd rather plan my draft to avoid the choice of McFadden when Johnson the the next option I'm abut to mention who is getting picked one spot after the Raiders back.
  • Randall Cobb WR11 - Aaron Rodgers says Cobb could earn 100 receptions this year in this system. For a receiver with Cobb's speed and quickness, a 1300-yard season on 100 receptions would be a low projection.
  • Victor Cruz WR12 - Big plays, high volume receptions, and open field skill after the catch all make Cruz a player with few limitations. In contrast, McFadden is great when the fit is right and healthy. I don't want my third-round pick to be good enough when all the stars align. I want him to be good enough even with adversity. 
  • Vincent Jackson WR13 - Better red zone option and equally good big-play threat to McFadden with a better track record of success. 
  • Peyton Manning QB3 - Pick 29 has three receivers with top-12 fantasy potential. It's unlikely this will happen, but I bet all three earn at least 900 yards and 7 touchdowns. Manning is the safest bet for a 5000-yard season with a sterling health history even with the neck injury that sidelined him for a year.
  • Cam Newton QB4 - Pick 39 has 1447 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns during his 2-year career. McFadden has 3333 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns in 5 years. Enough said.

There's a difference between recognizing that McFadden has the ability to be a monster fantasy option and appropriately weighing the risk-reward versus other options you can get in the same place of the draft. There's smaller difference in risk-reward with Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton than the first 10-12 running backs off the board this year. The same can be said about wide receiver.

What this tells me is that McFadden's price as RB18 is twice as high as it should be and that's insane.

Shane Vereen: What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

Vereen is another player embedded within a tier of players of equal to greater appeal. The difference is that Vereen is RB32 and leaving draft boards between the seventh and eighth rounds. There's more leeway at this point in the draft than the 3rd-4th round. There's also the likelihood that Vereen's value will creep upward throughout August. But like Darren McFadden, Vereen has only flashed his skills and in more limited time than the Raiders back. 

Why I'm more willing to reach for Vereen, but not McFadden is due to his lower ADP. The fourth round is a good point where the mid-round strategy gets clearer for fantasy owners. If you entered the draft thinking you'd open with a pair of RBs, but couldn't resist Dez Bryant or Calvin Johnson early, then got that second-round RB, and Jimmy Graham, there's enough shape to your team to see the options ahead. 

In many leagues I value Jordy Nelson, Vincent Jackson, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks more than runners like Darren Sproles, Lamar Miller and Montree Ball. My greatest dilemma is wide receiver or quarterback in this situation. With Newton, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan available, it's tempting to take one, but a round or two later I still can get Matt Stafford, Russell Wilson and Tony Romo and feel I've made a solid choice while landing a second quality receiver with WR1 upside. 

This strategy feels right to be because underscoring this thought process is how I value Vereen (and to a lesser extent, two backs with 5th-round ADPs). When you know you value two players at a position of need at least a round and a half to two rounds earlier than the consensus it affords you some breathing room to stockpile a little more value at another position to make it a clear strength. In this case, pairing Bryant or Johnson with one of Nelson, Cruz, Jackson, or Nicks accomplishes this task.

The reason I like Vereen as a fifth-round pick rather than an eight-round pick is his talent and role. Both are somewhat forgotten or misunderstood because his opportunity to display it has been limited. Vereen was the second-round pick ahead of Stevan Ridley. An injury prevented him from solidifying a shot at the lead role in this offense.

And he has the skills to earn that role. He is not Danny Woodhead's replacement. It's more accurate to think of Vereen has a more dynamic version of Kevin Faulk. 

Vereen is a decisive runner with good balance between the tackles. Paired with a lightning-quick first step and low center of gravity and Vereen is near the second level before many first-level defenders can get a firm grasp of him. 

His receiving skills are top notch. He's not just a dump-off receiver. This analysis I did while Vereen was at Cal demonstrates the things the Patriots saw in his game as a receiver and have implemented with the runner in limited time. New England didn't thrown fade routes to Woodhead or Faulk, but they have with Vereen. At the same time, Vereen has enough between the tackles skills to earn traditional looks beyond draws and delays that were the scope of Woodhead's attempts. 

Vereen is closer to a complete back than Woodhead or Faulk, and Faulk was a more well-round back and Woodhead despite the fact that these two utility backs had similar season-to-season production in New England. What gives Vereen the potential for a more extensive role in the Patriots offense despite the fact that Stevan Ridley is the primary back - and a good one - is the loss of Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker. The combo of these two receivers and Rob Gronkowski placed opposing defenses in double and triple-binds in terms of nickel backs, linebackers, and safeties. 

Substitute Danny Amendola for Welker and Vereen for Hernandez and the Patriots still can offer a similar dynamic. Vereen obviously won't block at the line of scrimmage, but Hernandez's alignment as a running back or receiver in the backfield, slot, or split wide generated a lot of issues and the former Cal back can offer the same problems - speed, strong hands, skill after the catch, and versatility of alignment. 

I'm projecting a near-even split in rush and receiving totals for Vereen that will amount to 1299 yards and 7 touchdowns from Vereen in 2013. It's a lofty total and a risky one at that. With a receiving corps likely to have one veteran starter in Amendola, who is also new to the team, and a still-recovering Gronkowski, Vereen's targets as a receiver in sets with Ridley in the backfield is likely.

The Patriots run a high-tempo offense and I don't see two carries and one catch per quarter as out of the question for Vereen. If he does this, he'll exceed his draft value by at least two rounds. While it's a frequency of thought that might leave some scratching their heads, I'm ready to pull the trigger in round five after I take that second wide receiver, follow up with a quarterback, and then be set for a strong WR3 or an RB3. 

It might be genius, it might be insanity, but this is a good moment to break the rule of "waiting for the draft to come to you" and come to the draft with plan of attack to prevent the process from getting away from you. 

Lance Moore: Collective Denial

The risk of seeking upside in fantasy football is forsaking a strong, safe bet. And when faced with an decision to pick tantalizing upside we find it convenient to downplay the merits of the alternate option. This is no better receiver in the NFL who represents that downplayed, alternate more than the Saints' Lance Moore.

He's a slot receiver. He's undersized. He has only produced because of injuries to more promising options in New Orleans.

False. False. And false.

Lance Moore plays the slot and outside. He averaged 16 yards per catch last year while earning a lot of his targets as a perimeter threat - 11th in the NFL and a tenth of a yard less tan Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, and Steve Smith. Moore is roughly the same size as former Titans and Ravens fantasy stalwart Derrick Mason. 

Most important, the Saints receiver has been no worse than a WR3 in four of the five seasons he's seen starter-caliber targets (70+) and the only reason he didn't earn those looks in 2009 was an injury that limited him to 7 games. Moore has 22 touchdowns since 2010 and there's no receiver in New Orleans who is going to take his job. 

Knock yourself out if you want to take Vick Ballard, Daryl Richardson, Mark Ingram, Fred Jackson or Mikel Leshoure ahead of Moore - especially in a league with me. If you're figuring Denarius Moore, Deandre Hopkins and Justin Blackmon offer more promise later, you might be right. But Drew Brees is the best bet to continue throwing for 5000 yards in 2013 and Moore is a prominent cog in the passing game. 

Moore out-pointed, Josh Gordon, Danario Alexander, Anquan Boldin, Kenny Britt, Jeremy Maclin, Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton last year. And none of those receivers have a better quarterback than Drew Brees. That's eight receivers in a range of 20 picks ahead of Moore who were behind him last year in the stats column. Only Hilton at pick 83 and Cecil Shorts at 81 were either close or tied with Moore in fantasy points last year. 

Moore has a longer and better track record with a better quarterback than any of these players, but fantasy owners are picking these guys 6-20 picks ahead of the Saints receiver. Some of these choices will be the correct decision, but far from the majority. 

Put down the upside Kool-Aid and step away from the Jim Jones Pavilion before it's too late.  

Danny Amendola:  Which History Will Repeat Itself?

As we exit the Kool-Aid stand, note the Fantasy Owners of Danny Amendola Table. You can hear the pitch coming before even sidling up to the table: 

Look, we and the Fantasy Owners of Wes Welker have this little misunderstanding. See, they're fans of a proven star slot receiver. We're fans of a slot receiver. They've got the guy with a history of strong fantasy seasons. Ours has a history of strong fantasy games. They've got a receiver with a drop rate of 12.87 percent. We've got a receiver with a drop rate of 1.92 percent (thanks Kyle Wachtel). 

We both got slot receivers with quicks, a chance to play with one of the great quarterbacks of all time, and the potential to produce as top-20 wide receivers in historically potent offenses. But they have a receiver who has a history of good health, our receiver has no such history. 

It's a McDonald's-McDowell's situation if I've ever seen one. 

I agree with Wachtel, Amendola's skills and fit with the Patriots offense makes him a strong candidate for WR2 production with WR1 upside and WR3 floor.  If the offense continues to have a strong emphasis on slot play, Amendola's ADP of WR20 at pick 53 makes him a rock-solid value. 

Yet there's a niggling doubt about the offense the Patriots will use. Before Hernandez was arrested, Gronkowski's injury became a protracted issue, and releasing Brandon Lloyd, I could see the offense remaining the same when they considered signing Amendola. Now the offense's strength may not be its receiving corps. Beyond Amendola and the oft-injured Julian Edelman, the depth chart's talent is based on the potential of a bunch of rookies.

LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley might be the most talented weapons beyond Gronkowski. There's reason to wonder if the ground game becomes a bigger factor, especially when Vereen could be used as a receiver in the slot opposite Amendola or bumping Amendola outside in some sets. It's not discussed, but is there a chance that Vereen usurps Amendola's potential as the most frequently targeted option in New England's short game?

It's a possibility that the Patriots' track record for altering its schemes towards its talent makes Amdendola more of a supporting player than Wes Welker. Sounds strange when Brady is a future Hall of Famer who has been a strong producer with non-marquee receivers, but if New England doesn't get consistent production from at least one outside receiver it may limit Amendola's upside. 

I don't believe this is a significant reason to avoid Amendola, but it bears watching early in the year with opening games against division opponents like the Bills and Jets as well as the Buccaneers. If the Patriots go run-heavy, it might be worth considering a move away from Amendola even if it seems like a losing proposition to trade him at a low point. 

Again, I think this scenario isn't likely. But the injury worries are a valid concern. If Amendola is slated to earn the Welker workload, then opponents will be waiting and there will be fewer established options with a track record to account in the same manner is Hernandez and Gronkowski. It means teams may elect to punish Amendola early in the season and force Brady to opt for less proven targets. More attention, more punishment, and all targeted on a player who has played 12 of the past 32 games looks like a recipe for further injury. 

If Amendolas is a fifth-round pick in most drafts, it means Dwayne Bowe, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker, Mike Wallace, and Torrey Smith are in the same ADP tier. Just below that tier are Pierre Garcon, Antonio Brown, Steve Smith, James Jones, Greg Jennings, Tavon Austin, and Steve Johnson. Below that tier is Cecil Shorts, T.Y. Hilton, DeSeean Jackson, Miles Austin, Mike Williams, and Kenny Britt.

It's a logjam of talent and based on my projections, the gap in production is pretty small for this many options. This means, Amendola might be worth WR20, but there are 18 receivers in this list above that I think have a strong chance to have similar or better value to Amendola. Only Bowe, Nicks, and Wayne are taken before Amendola in most drafts, which means Amendola may meet expectations but is he the smartest option at this point in the draft? 

In Amendola's tier is Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, LeVeon Bell, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson. At this point of a draft, Witten and Gonzalez look far more attractive based on the structure of most starting lineups and their history of durability and proudction in offenses that aren't changing drastically in terms of personnel (and potentially scheme). Bell is pretty risky here, but if you went strong early at WR or Bell is your third RB in a draft where a flex RB as the No.3 option for a starting lineup is optimal then it's a good play. 

Another compelling argument against Amendola is the chance to take one of these four quarterbacks. All four have elite QB1 upside despite questions about consistency, injuries, or set backs as defenses get a book on them. I have more doubts about Amendola having WR1 upside than I do about these quarterbacks having top-five upside at their position. The same is true of the tight ends.

While Amendola looks like his value holds up when looking at his position, widening the focus to the entire landscape of the draft weakens his standing. Just like scouting rookies, talent and fit are two different things. One player may have more overall talent, but another might do have a few more deficiencies but also talents that are a stronger fit in one specific scheme that will rely on those skills.

In fantasy football, Amendola may have WR2 talent, but his fit within your draft strategy might not be as good as the other prospects at different positions who have a greater difference in positional value within their position group. The ADP may appear sane, but it could cost you a chance at a well-rounded roster. 

Torrey Smith: Forced Isolation Is a Condition Ripe for Mental Trauma

I like Smith's game a lot. He fights for the ball, displays clutch skill on difficult plays down field, and he think he's still growing into his position. But there's a dynamic that exists with productive fantasy receivers that not only limits his upside, it could hurt his current value as WR 23. Most quality fantasy starters at wide receiver play on teams with a productive fantasy quarterback and either a high-volume fantasy co-start at receiver and/or tight end. 

The four-year average of receivers with at least WR2 fantasy production without a quality complement in the passing game is 33 percent. Not great odds. A qualitative analysis of this stat also tells us that many of the same names appear on the list each years:

These players are one of three styles of receiver: a big, physical player capable of out-muscling defenders for the ball; a player with a great catch radius and concentration coupled with strong route setup; and a player with opportunities as a runner and receiver. These styles of player can produce without a complementary weapon opposite a receiver because they can be moved around the formation and used with enough versatility to earn targets.

Smith will need to demonstrate much better route skills and a greater range of target types to prevent opposing defenses from having greater opportunities to reduce the frequency and quality of targets coming his way now that Anquan Boldin is gone, Dennis Pitta is likely out for the year, and none of the Ravens receivers are proven options. The idea of taking Torrey Smith at WR23 is far too risky now.