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20/20 Hindsight - Week 8

  Posted 10/28 by Matt Waldman, Exclusive for Footballguys.com

Would've (From the Who Would Have Known File)

Steve Slaton would remain productive despite an ugly season

Have you taken a close look at Steve Slaton's stats? I'm not talking about his top-12 fantasy ranking heading into this weekend's game, but the 3.1 yards per carry and six fumbles (four lost) in seven games. That's uglier than Larry Johnson's at a G.L.A.D. meeting. The second-year back's best run was a 31-yard gain, which was his second-longest carry for the season. Otherwise, his remaining 17 carries netted 36 yards and three of those accounted for 22 of those yards. Nothing like fifteen carries for 14 yards - good thing the Texans can throw at will, and patience with Slaton's lack of production did give the Texans benefit of four carries for 53 yards.

Lesson Learned: As Colin Dowling mentioned in this week's Waiver Wire Gems, the Texans are slowing figuring out that the best way to use Steve Slaton is more akin with the way the Saints use Reggie Bush. I think the biggest lessons learned here are the facts (or maybe in this case, my opinion until proven as fact) that fantasy owners can get quality production despite mediocre stats and that NFL coaches frequently know how to make the best use of their talent:

  • Exhibit A: I'm sick of watching 80 percent of the NFL trot out the Wildcat for three plays with limited or no success. If these coaches were in the corporate world, they would make Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch manager look like a genius. It's like they think if they say "Wildcat" on the sideline, defenses will tremble in fear. As the ESPN Monday night sideline crew Matt Millen and Steve Young so accurately stated two weeks ago, the Dolphins succeed because they have the right personnel for it and they practice it extensively. Half the time it seems these other teams use it as a short-yardage gimmick, which is playing it safe because a successful play will only need to net two yards or less. Although I can't blame the offensive coordinators who installed the Wildcat because their head coach or owner said so, but the team doesn't practice it enough to really use it.
  • Exhibit B: Running Back By Committee. It works in a number of cities. In others, it simply prevents a running back from getting into the flow of the game. The difference is when a coach splits series or carry counts that allow a runner to stay in the flow of the action rather than compartmentalize the backs into situations where they were constantly shuttling on and off the field. The Giants get it. I'm not sure the Saints and Patriots do, which explains why they are primarily passing teams. Plus I think the Patriots play this method of football because they simply can't draft an elite running back that makes good on his collegiate promise. It's their blind spot in the same way the Titans have had such a long-standing problem drafting a receiver. As a Titans fan, I'm still disappointed they were one pick shy of getting Hakeem Nicks - and I'm afraid even if he did fall to them they would have taken Kenny Britt. Yes, Britt has had moments, but tell me with straight face you'd take him over Nicks right now. I believe if you plugged Nicks into the Titans lineup, they might have won a game or two by now.
  • Exhibit C: The Running Quarterback. Mike Vick and Daunte Culpepper were leading the charge that began with Steve Young, Steve McNair, Randall Cunningham, and Donovan McNabb. Guess what? The last four learned to run less and throw more from the pocket. The first two are beginning to make me hearken back to Vince Evans.
  • Exhibit D: End-around run action. About seven years ago, teams began to implement a run play up the middle that occurred as a receiver motioned to the backfield post-snap to hopefully trick the opposing defense into moving away from true direction of the play, much like a pump fake in the passing game. Some teams still use this play effectively. Others can't seem to figure out that at some point you have to be able to run the end-around effectively for defenses to bite on the fake.

Ultimately, it's not the concepts that are the problem it's how they are applied. It may be a copycat league, but there is still only one champion. Some teams are just clueless. Heck, we just found out from Clinton Portis on Monday Night Football that the Redskins haven't allow their quarterbacks to audible protections at the line of scrimmage since he arrived their from Denver. Are you kidding me? That's stunning news to me. Why would you not allow your quarterback to identify the blitz and change the protections to suit the play? It's what makes quarterbacks as effective as they are. Even if you argue that Jason Campbell isn't a good quarterback then you have to throw Mark Brunell into that mix, too and he was good enough and I don't buy it because obviously it wasn't just Jim Zorn who maintained this nutty limitation in Washington. It has to be the guy hiring these coaches, and that guy ultimately is the one who looks eerily similar to Steve Carrell, don't you think?

Rookie backs would rear their heads at midseason

Shonn Green and Beanie Wells plowed their way through opponents last week. Wells came into the game after a Tim Hightower fumble and shed tacklers like he was the second coming of Ottis Anderson. Greene got the nod after Leon Washington broke his fibula and gained 144 yards on 19 carries for a 7.6 YPC average and 2 scores to Thomas Jones' 26 attempts for 121 yards, 4.7 YPC, and 1 score. There are 1-6, 2-5, and 3-4 teams in leagues around the country tripping over them selves to get a crack at these two players on their league waiver wire.

Lesson Learned: Surely there are plenty of leagues where savvy fantasy owners held onto these players although not counting on them to do anything early on. Only one of my leagues has Shonn Greene on the waiver wire and Chris Wells has been collecting dust on someone's roster in all of my leagues. Sometimes it pays to hold onto untapped talent.

Could've (From the Who Could Have Known File)

Alex Smith could put the 49ers back into the game

Three touchdowns in a half while going 15 for 22 for 206 yards? Not bad, even against the Texans pass defense. What Dowling astutely points out from this game in the Waiver Wire Gems report is that Alex Smith threw the ball with excellent velocity. Now Smith is the starter for the foreseeable future in San Francisco and might just be a decent waiver wire option for a bye -week or even those struggling at the QB position in general.

Lesson Learned: Smith has always been the more physically talented player than Shaun Hill, and the former overall No. 1 pick in the draft also was known for his intelligence. The issues have been his health and confidence. It's just one half, but Smith did more with the talent around him than Hill has managed to do for much of the season. The true test will be whether Smith can continue strong showings in games where he doesn't enter them with nothing to lose.

Michael Crabtree would come ready to play

Five catches for 56 yards doesn't sound like much, but that's twice the production I expected from the rookie that held out half the season. After reading about Crabtree's pizza diet during his initial stint of rehab and missing training camp, I thought we were going to see the Mike Williams Story Part II: the whale who thought he was a wide out. However, Crabtree got in great shape, learned as much of the playbook as he could (wasn't it stated earlier in the media that he couldn't have access to a playbook while holding out?), and he made the most of his first opportunity.

Lesson Learned: Maybe Crabtree will prove he deserved that extra money after all. The best aspects of Crabtree's game have been route running, his hands, and skills after the catch. We'll see if he can be the exception to the rule. His freshman year at Texas Tech certainly was that way...

Should've (From The I Knew I Should've File)

Not to count on any receiver not named Marques Colston

Last week I thought Lance Moore was ready to maintain his presence as one of Drew Brees' most productive options. Two receptions and 18 yards later in Miami, and I'm convinced you'll be lucky to find a consistent option beyond Colston or Jeremy Shockey.

Lesson Learned: What makes Brees special is his willingness to throw the ball to anyone and spread it around to the open man.

Ted Ginn couldn't cut it

Ted Ginn has dropped more meaningful passes in single coverage that could have made a difference in several contests this year than any receiver in football. It's harsh to say Ginn can't cut it, but that's how it appears. He's about to lose playing time to prospects with much less regard coming out of school.

Lesson Learned: Ted Ginn is Exhibit E from the previous segment about coaches who get enamored with a concept but don't know how to apply it. I'm convinced Ted Ginn was an attempt to copycat Devin Hester that failed miserably. Devin Hester can catch the football with his hands. Ted Ginn cannot. Ginn might be a great athlete, but he's a great illustration why football skill is as important as athleticism - if not more.


20/10 Foresight (You better read this...)

  • From the Week 5 column
    Hakeem Nicks is going to make Eli Manning a 4000-yard passer: The prospects for 4000 yards from Manning aren't looking great, but Nicks is playing as well as advertised.
  • From the Week 6 column
    Edgerrin James is a good waiver wire option: If James couldn't see enough time against the team that dropped him then he's strictly and injury option.
  • From the Week 7 column
    Sammie Stroughter and Garrett Wolfe are players to watch: Keep watching...and (in Wolfe's case) waiting.

Alex Smith is the big name backup quarterback getting his shot to replace a starter. However, Carolina beat writer Darin Gantt believes there's a 55-45 shot that third-year quarterback Matt Moore will replace Jake Delhomme in the starting lineup this weekend. Moore is a player I thought needed a few years to develop, but has the talent to be a successful starter. He was forced into action during his rookie year and he threw for 730 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions with a 57 percent completion rate over the course of nine games. In his three starts, he went 49 for 79 (62 percent) for 538 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. More importantly, the Panthers went 2-1, beating the Seahawks and Buccaneers and dropping a seven-point game to the Cowboys.

Speaking of the Cowboys, Moore has a little bit of Tony Romo in him. Ironically enough, the undrafted free agent was cut by the Cowboys late in the preseason before he migrated to Carolina. He's a player with good mobility in the pocket and capable of throwing with good velocity moving to his right or his left. He's a good athlete who was a bit raw and reckless at Oregon State. Fellow draft analyst Mel Kiper also thought highly of Moore prior to the 2007 NFL Draft and ranked him among his top five QBs that year.

Here is my 2007 Rookie Scouting Portfolio profile of Moore. I'm especially interested in seeing him perform after a couple of years of study. Most people are saying the Panthers don't have much at quarterback and the acquisition of A.J. Feeley would seem to validate that Moore isn't much of a player. However, it's Moore who still maintained the No. 2 spot on the depth chart over a more proven back up.

He's a speculation pick at this point, but I have a feeling Moore will prove his worth if given a chance.

Nagging Thoughts for Week 8

If I could play the role of the Miller Highlife beer man and stroll into places and make a soapbox speech about opportunities taken and wasted, I would roll into Kansas City's complex and make a beeline for Jamaal Charles. At this point the most offensive component of the Chiefs just might be Larry Johnson's Tweets about his head coach and the media, which is only useful as a cautionary tale for young athletes that fame and celebrity in sports is measured in dog years and what they do in that brief time can last decades longer. The only good thing about Larry Johnson is that he shares the same name as my father in-law, who is a retired police detective. Otherwise, that's about as much type I want to waste on Larry Johnson. This is about Jamaal Charles. I sincerely hope he realizes this is his best chance to prove he's the future of this franchise. Otherwise, he'll either be trying to latch onto a back up gig elsewhere or a holdover for a new regime that doesn't give a flip about what round the Chiefs took him in 2008's draft. Charles has some special skills. If a runner's vision is a three-pronged skill of anticipation/patience, recognition, and decisiveness then Charles is one of the more intuitive runners at the skill of recognition that I have seen. He runs with better power than one might expect. He could put himself on the track that leads to comparisons to Clinton Portis or Marshall Faulk.

If I was Limas Sweed, and I owned a house in the Pittsburgh area, I'd put it on the market. Santonio Holmes is firmly entrenched as the primary guy and Hines Ward is demonstrating why he isn't going anywhere. However, Mike Wallace is playing well enough for you to look into moving services. Sweed is in the second year of a four-year, $3.265 million deal. Maybe Hines Ward does the rare thing and call it quits after a big year, but that isn't the norm for successful, hypercompetitive players of Ward's ilk. So I wonder if Sweed might be shopped in the offseason. There are enough teams that I think could use a young prospect.

Mike Bell has proven yet again that you can never count out running backs that initially get cut in this league. The undrafted free agent from the University of Arizona who got cut by Denver is now outplaying fantasy preseason darling Pierre Thomas who also seemingly came from nowhere to get the starting gig.